Brittney Griner apologized for her “mistake” and asked a judge in closing statements not to hand down the 9 1/2-year prison term prosecutors requested moments before as her court case closed Thursday in Russia.
Sentencing is expected later Thursday.
Griner, speaking from a cage where defendants are kept in the Russian courtroom, faces a maximum 10 years in prison for drug possession after pleading guilty. Vape cartridges with cannabis oil were found in her luggage at a Moscow-area airport in February, and Griner has been detained since.
“I never meant to hurt anybody,” Griner said. “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 of breaking Russian laws. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime.”
Griner also apologized for any embarrassment brought to her Russian basketball club.
Prior to Griner’s opportunity to speak to the court, prosecutors asked the judge to sentence the WNBA star to 9 1/2 years in prison, short of the maximum of 10 years. Russian media pointed out Thursday that the case is less theater than some might believe, using the precedent of Pennsylvania school teacher Marc Fogel. He was sentenced to 14 years in Russian prison after being arrested with what he said was medical marijuana for back pain.
The political backdrop of the case is unavoidable as United States and Kremlin officials confirmed negotiations for Griner’s release as part of a prisoner swap have taken place. Russia has asked for the release of Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence in Illinois for conspiring to kill Americans and sell weapons to Colombian terrorists.
However, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Russia made only a “bad faith attempt” to counter the proposed swap by attempting to including additional prisoners locked up in the United States.
–Field Level Media