Russian prosecutors seek 9.5-year sentence for US basketball star Griner

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Russian prosecutors have requested that American basketball star Brittney Griner be sentenced to 9.5 years in a penal colony, state news agency TASS reported. reported from the courtroom on Thursday as the highly publicized trial draws to a close.

The two-time Olympic champion was arrested for drug trafficking on February 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. about 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 request is approaching the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

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

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

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

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

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

She added that the amount of substance brought in by the athlete was “a bit more” than the amount allowed.

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

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

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

“I know everyone talks about political pawn and politics, but I hope it’s away from this courtroom,” said journalist Mary Ilyushina. cited Grind as said.

Griner’s attorneys say the basketball star was licensed to use medical marijuana. Marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes is illegal in Russia.

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

The WNBA star said she got permission from an American doctor to use medical cannabis to relieve pain from her many injuries – “from the spine to the cartilages”.

She had been in Russia playing club basketball for UMMC Yekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason, a common route for American players looking to supplement their income.

The administration of US President Joe Biden, which calls Griner “wrongfully detained”, has proposed a prisoner swap with Russia in which imprisoned basketball player and former US Marine Paul Whelan would be freed.

Several reports indicated that Washington had offered notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to Moscow.

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

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

The final verdict in Griner’s case is expected to be announced at the Khimki City Court near Moscow on Thursday, according to his lawyer quoted by TASS.

AFP contributed reporting.

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