Russian Prosecutors Seek 9.5-Year Sentence for US Basketball Star Griner


Russian prosecutors have asked for US basketball star Brittney Griner to be sentenced to 9.5 years in a penal colony, the state-run TASS news agency reported from the courtroom Thursday as the high-profile trial nears its end.

The two-time Olympic champion was arrested on drug smuggling charges on Feb. 17 after officers found cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage at a Moscow airport, putting her at the center of the diplomatic fallout between Russia and the United States over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

While Griner, 31, pleaded guilty to the charges last month in hopes of receiving a more lenient sentence, the prosecution’s demand nears the maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.

Prosecutor Nikolay Vlasenko said Griner “deliberately” proceeded through the green corridor at customs and stated she had nothing to declare “in order to conceal” the substance.

The prosecutor also asked for Griner to pay a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,590).

Griner walked into the courtroom in handcuffs, escorted by several law enforcement officers and a police dog.

Standing inside a cage for defendants before the start of the hearing, she held up a photo of herself with teammates from the Russian club she plays for.

Her lawyer Maria Blagovolina told the court Griner was “an icon for many people” and “was brave” to admit her guilt.

She added that the amount of substance brought in by the athlete was “just over” the allowed amount.

Blagovolina asked the court to acquit Griner or consider a more lenient sentence if she is found guilty.

“I would ask the court to acquit my client, but if the court finds it impossible, then I consider it necessary to choose a punishment while taking into account Griner’s personality and the role she played in the development of Russian basketball,” Interfax quoted Blagovolina as saying.

Griner echoed her lawyer’s plea in her final statement, calling her actions “an honest mistake” and saying that she too hopes for a lenient decision that won’t dramatically alter the course of her life.

“I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics but I hope this is far from this courtroom,” journalist Mary Ilyushina quoted Laughing as saying.

Griner’s lawyers say that the basketball star had been authorized to use marijuana for medical purposes. Marijuana for both recreational and medicinal uses is illegal in Russia.

In previous hearings, Griner said she was regularly tested by US, Russian and European leagues.

The WNBA star said she had permission from a US doctor to use medicinal cannabis to relieve pain from her many injuries — “from spine to cartilages.”

She had been in Russia to play club basketball for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA off-season, a common path for American players looking to supplement their income.

US President Joe Biden’s administration, which classifies Griner as “wrongfully detained,” has proposed a prisoner swap with Russia in which the basketball player and imprisoned former US Marine Paul Whelan would be released.

Several reports have said Washington offered up notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to Moscow.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to accept the proposal in a phone conversation last week, although neither side reported any progress in the negotiations.

Lavrov called for “quiet diplomacy without any dubious media leaks” after the call.

The final verdict in Griner’s case is expected to be announced at the court in the town of Khimki outside Moscow later on Thursday, according to her lawyer cited by TASS.

AFP contributed reporting.

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