Brittney Griner apologized to her family and teammates during closing arguments of her drugs trial in Russia today, where prosecutors are asking that she be sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison for bringing a cannabis pen into the country.
Griner, 31, was arrested at the airport in Moscow in February and has been incarcerated ever since, despite failed attempts from the White House to negotiate her release.
Russian prosecutors have asked for Brittney Griner to be jailed for nine-and-a-half years for bringing cannabis into the country. It is six months less than the maximum of 10 years in prison.
She previously pleaded guilty and is now awaiting sentencing.
On Thursday, she begged for leniency and asked the court to take into consideration her good character.
She said she did not want to be considered a political pawn, and that bringing the cannabis pen into the country was a simple, ‘honest mistake’.
Brittney Griner arrives in court in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, on Thursday. Prosecutors have asked a judge to jail her for nine-and-a-half years, six months short of the 10 year maximum
Griner was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. She has been incarcerated since February
Brittney Griner holds up a team photo showing her playing with UMMC Ekaterinburg, the Russian team she spent off-seasons with to bolster her WNBA earnings
‘Russia became my second home. I remember vividly coming out of the gym and all the little girls coming out and waiting on me. That’s what kept making me come back here.
‘I want to apologize to my teammates, my club and the city for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought. I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, Phoenix Mercury, the amazing women of the WNBA and my amazing spouse back at home.
I never meant to break any laws. I made an honest mistake and I hope that your ruling doesn’t end my life.
‘I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws. I made an honest mistake and I hope that your ruling doesn’t end my life. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics…but I hope that it’s far from this courtroom.
‘I had no intent on breaking Russian law. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime. I hope you can take into account all the documents, the character lists that have been sent in on my behalf.
‘This is my second home. All I wanted to do was win championships and make them proud,’ she said.
The State Department had been in talks to secure Griner’s release as part of a deal that would also bring imprisoned American Paul Whelan home.
The deal has been on the table for weeks, but Russia is yet to agree.
US officials will not confirm reports that it includes freeing Viktor Boult, a Russian criminal known as the ‘merchant of death’.
Griner shaking hands with her attorney Alexander Boykov, right. Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, is shown, left
Griner has her handcuffs removed after being led into the defendant’s cage in Khimki, near Moscow, on Thursday
Griner with her wife Cherelle, who has been begging for White House help for months
Griner was arrested at Moscow Airport in February when customs officials found a cannabis pen in her luggage. She has been incarcerated ever since
During closing arguments on Thursday, her attorneys pleaded for leniency.
‘In sprinting there is Usain Bolt, in Formula 1 Michael Schumacher, and in women’s basketball there is Brittney Griner,’ her lawyer Maria Blagovolina said.
Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners law firm, said that should the court deems it necessary to punish her, Griner should be be treated leniently.
Griner’s family say they have been frustrated with the White House response to the situation.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia has made a ‘bad faith’ response to the US government’s offer, a counteroffer that American officials don’t regard as serious. She declined to elaborate.
Griner has acknowledged there were vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she was arrested at a Moscow airport.
But she insisted that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage because she was packing hastily.
‘I still don’t understand how they ended up in my bag,’ she said.
Griner had been prescribed medical marijuana in the United States to relieve pain from chronic injuries, a treatment method that is common among elite athletes because it has fewer side effects than some painkillers.
Griner played for a Russian women’s basketball team in the WNBA off-season.