Khimki – Her voice quavering, American basketballer Brittney Griner pleaded with a Russian judge on Thursday not to “end her 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 on Thursday, a step that could bring an extraordinary United States-Russia prisoner swap that will include Griner and a Russian imprisoned in the U.S. who was once one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers.
If she is found guilty, a sentence will likely be announced at the same time.
The Russian prosecutor called for Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) basketballer, to be sentenced to 9-1/2 years in prison if she is found guilty of bringing illegal drugs to Russia.
Griner was detained at the Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 in Moscow with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
She pleaded guilty, but she 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 before breaking down in tears.
“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.”
The case threw the 31-year-old Texan athlete into the geopolitical maelstrom triggered when President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.
With relations between the U.S. and Russia at their most strained since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, U.S. 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.
Cannabis is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Griner’s lawyers said that 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.