WNBA’s Griner apologizes as Russian court prepares verdict
An emotional Brittney Greiner apologized in a Russian court on Thursday as her drug-trafficking trial ended, with a prosecutor demanding that the American basketball star be found guilty in the high-profile case and sentenced to nine and be sentenced to half a year in prison. American and Russian diplomacy
With the judge set to issue an unusually quick sentence later in the day and the conviction all but certain, Griner made one last appeal to the court. He said he did not intend to break the law by bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil when he flew to Moscow in February for a basketball game in the city of Yekaterinburg.
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city (of Yekaterinburg) for the mistake I made and the embarrassment I caused them,” Griner said, his voice breaking. “I also want to apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization at home, the amazing women of the WNBA and my amazing wife back home.”
Under Russian law, Griner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. But judges have considerable freedom of action in issuing judgments.
If he is not released, attention will turn to the possibility of a prisoner swap, which was suggested last week by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to his Russian counterpart.
He said he had made “an honest mistake” and added: “I hope this sentence does not end my life.”
Yekaterinburg, a city east of the Ural Mountains, has become his “second home,” Greiner said.
“I had no idea that the team, the cities, the fans, my teammates would make such a huge impact on me during the six and a half years I spent here,” he said. “I remember coming out of the stadium and all the little girls waiting for me in the stands, and that’s what made me come back here.”
Attorneys for the Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist have pursued strategies to bolster Griner’s claim that he had no criminal intent and that the cans ended up in his suitcase due to hasty packing. They presented character witnesses from the Russian team she plays for in the WNBA offseason and testimony from a doctor who said he prescribed cannabis for pain.
Griner’s lawyer, Maria Blagovlina, argued that Griner inadvertently brought the cartridges with him to Russia and only used cannabis to treat pain from injuries sustained during his career. He said he’s only used it in Arizona, where it’s legalized medical marijuana.
He emphasized that Greiner was hastily packing after a grueling flight and was suffering from the effects of Covid-19. Blagovlina also noted that the analysis of the cannabis found in Greiner’s possession was flawed and violated legal procedures.
Blagovlina urged the court to acquit Griner, noting that he had no criminal record and hailed his role in the “development of Russian basketball.”
Another defense attorney, Alexander Boykov, also highlighted Griner’s role in leading his Yekaterinburg team to multiple championships, noting that he was well-liked and admired by his teammates.
He told the judge that the conviction undermines Russia’s efforts to develop a national sport and makes Moscow’s call to depoliticize sport shallow.
Boykoff added that even after his arrest, Greiner won the sympathy of guards and inmates, who supported him by yelling, “Brittany, it’s going to be okay.” When he was walking in the prison.
Prosecutor Nikolai Velasenko insisted that Griner intentionally packaged the cannabis oil, and he asked the court to fine him 1 million rubles (about $16,700) in addition to the prison sentence.
If he is not released, attention will turn to the possibility of a prisoner exchange.
Before his trial began in July, the State Department classified him as “wrongfully detained” and placed his case under the supervision of the President’s Special Representative for Hostage Affairs, effectively the administration’s chief hostage negotiator. , transferred
Then last week, Blinken, in an extraordinary move, spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and asked him to accept a deal that would release Griner and Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia on espionage charges.
The Lavrov-Blinken call was the highest known level of contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia sent troops to Ukraine more than five months ago. Direct communication with Greiner runs counter to US efforts to isolate the Kremlin.
People familiar with the proposal said it would see Greiner and Whelan swapped for notorious arms dealer Victor Butt, who is serving time in the United States. It underscores the public pressure the White House is facing to release Griner.
White House spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre said Monday that Russia had responded “in bad faith” to the U.S. administration’s offer, a counteroffer that U.S. officials did not take seriously. He declined to elaborate.
Russian officials have scoffed at US comments on the case, saying they show disrespect for Russian law. They continued to look at poker, urging Washington to discuss the issue through “calm diplomacy without the release of speculative information.”