KHIMKI, RUSSIA (REUTERS) – Her voice quavering, US basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded with a Russian judge on Thursday (Aug 4) not to “end my life” with a harsh prison sentence for bringing in vape cartridges containing hashish oil, before breaking down in tears in court.
A verdict is expected later in the day, a step that could bring an extraordinary US-Russia prisoner swap that could include Griner and a Russian imprisoned in the United States who was once one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers.
If she is found guilty, a sentence would likely be announced at the same time.
The Russian prosecutor called for Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star, to be sentenced to 9½ years in prison if she is found guilty of bringing illegal drugs to Russia.
Griner was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Feb 17 with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty but said she had neither intended to bring a banned substance to Russia nor to hurt anybody.
“I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn’t end my life here,” Griner said in court.
“My parents taught me two important things: One, take ownership of your responsibilities; and two, work hard for everything that you have. That’s why I pled guilty to my charges,” she said.
The case threw the 31-year-old Texan athlete into the geopolitical maelstrom triggered when President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb 24. With US-Russian relations at their most strained since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, US President Joe Biden is under pressure to intervene on behalf of Americans held in Russia.
“I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that is far from this courtroom,” Griner said.
Griner’s lawyers said she should be acquitted, but that if the court deems it necessary to punish her, she should be treated leniently, casting her as a sporting legend alongside Usain Bolt and Michael Schumacher.
“In sprinting, there is Usain Bolt. In Formula One, Michael Schumacher, and in women’s basketball there is Brittney Griner,” lawyer Maria Blagovolina told the court.
Mr Alexander Boikov, her other lawyer, said some of the case files were drawn up in violation of the law.
Disclaimer: This report is automatically generated from worldwide news services. NTN is not responsible for its content and does not moderate it.