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Russian Prosecutors Want Brittney Griner's Sentence to Be 9.5 Years in Cannabis Case

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVAugust 4, 2022

Brittney Griner (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian prosecutors are seeking a 9.5-year prison sentence for WNBA star Brittney Griner on drug charges.

Jim Heintz of the Associated Press reported a conviction "appears almost certain" amid Thursday's closing arguments because Russian courts rarely issue acquittals. Griner faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted.

The 31-year-old Texas native has been detained by Russia for 168 days after vape cartridges with cannabis oil were found during a search of her luggage at a Moscow airport in February.

Griner made a statement to the court during the closing arguments, via CNN:

"I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here. I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn't end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom. I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian laws. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime."

Griner was traveling to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason, as she's done since 2014, when she was arrested. Numerous WNBA players compete in overseas leagues for supplemental income.

She pleaded guilty to drug charges in July, but trials in Russia continue and the plea is considered for potential leniency at sentencing.

Griner testified last week she accidentally packed the vape cartridges in her luggage while getting ready to leave for Russia in haste, and explained she legally uses cannabis on a doctor's recommendation in the United States to treat chronic pain from sports injuries, according to the AP's Vladimir Isachenkov.

"I didn't have any intent to use or keep in my possession any substance that is prohibited in Russia," she said. "With them being accidentally in my bags, I take responsibility, but I did not intend to smuggle or plan to smuggle anything into Russia."

Griner added an interpreter provided at the airport didn't provide any information about her rights and only pointed out where she should sign paperwork.

"Nothing was ever explained to me thoroughly at all," she said. "There was a lot of short words—'sign here'—and at that point, I felt like being held against my will so that's why I contacted my family and my agent and asked for legal representation."

In May, the U.S. State Department designated her as "wrongfully detained."

Discussions about a potential prisoner swap have so far failed to yield Griner's release as the trial nears its conclusion.

The U.S. offered Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan, but White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Russia replied with a "bad faith" counteroffer, per Heintz.

A timetable for a verdict and sentencing hasn't been announced.

Griner is one of the most decorated basketball players of the generation. She has won eight championships (four EuroLeague, three Russian National League and one WNBA), two Olympic gold medals with Team USA and eight WNBA All-Star selections.

She rose to stardom during her college career at Baylor, where she was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player while helping the Lady Bears win the 2012 NCAA Division I national championship.

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