Speaking through a court interpreter in the late afternoon, Griner apologized in her closing statement ahead of the judge’s verdict and said she never intended to break Russian law or harm anyone in Russia.
She had made “an honest mistake under stress”, she said, rushing to pack her bags and return to her Russian team, unaware that the vape cartridges were in her luggage before flying to Moscow in mid-February.
“I grew up in a normal house in Houston, Texas, with my siblings, my mom and my dad. My mom stayed home to take care of me and my sister, and my dad went working and supporting our family,” she told the judge. “My parents taught me two things: one, take responsibility, and two, work hard for everything you have.
Griner, who plays for UMMC Yekaterinburg in the WNBA offseason, called Yekaterinburg “a second home.” She said she was moved by the camaraderie she found there with her teammates and the enthusiasm of her fans, especially the young girls who were waiting outside the team’s locker room to welcome her. “That’s why I kept coming back.”
The athlete apologized to his teams in Russia and the United States, his parents and his wife. She knew people were referring to her as “a political pawn”, but she distanced herself from such language and said she hoped it would play no part in the court’s decision.
“I never wanted to hurt anyone, endanger the Russian population or violate Russian laws,” she noted.
A member of his legal team, Alexander Boikov, had told the judge that Griner deserved to be acquitted despite his guilty plea, saying the prosecution had failed to prove criminal intent. Moreover, he said, his rights were violated during the investigation and the legal process.
“We know that in Russia the drug laws are very strict,” Boikov said, “but Russia also cares about its prestige in sport.” Griner’s career has been a celebration of friendship between people, he continued. “She had many offers, but for some reason she chose the cold Yekaterinburg, knowing how warmly she would be received there.”
The prosecution alleges that the 0.702 grams of cannabis found in the Griner’s luggage after it landed at Sheremetyevo International Airport in February was a “significant amount”.
The star Phoenix Mercury testified that she used cannabis oil in the United States for the treatment of chronic pain caused by injuries, but knew that transporting cannabis to Russia was illegal. She said she flew to Russia despite warnings from the US State Department about such trips because she didn’t want to let her Russian team down.
The Biden administration is feeling massive public pressure to secure his release, a behind-the-scenes negotiation greatly complicated by the breakdown in relations between Washington and Moscow over the war in Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late last week, urging him to agree to a deal involving Griner and former security consultant Paul Whelan, an American who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia. Whelan, who was arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage in 2020, says he was framed.
The United States declined to say whether the pair would be swapped for Russia Victor Boutan arms dealer who was arrested during a US sting operation in Thailand in 2008.
The administration’s announcement of its proposed deal appears to be an effort to dampen criticism of its handling of the Griner case. But the Kremlin has told Washington to refrain from “megaphone diplomacy”, with Russian Foreign Ministry officials repeatedly warning that public appeals would not help it.
John Kirby, spokesman for the United States National Security Council, said on Tuesday that the administration was not going to negotiate in public.
“We made a serious proposal, made a serious offer,” Kirby said. “And we urge the Russians to accept this offer because it was made with sincerity, and we know we can support it.”
In recent years, the United States has resisted Russian pressure to trade Bout given the severity of his crimes. It was sentenced in New York in 2011 and later sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiring to sell surface-to-air missiles, AK-47s and explosives to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, knowing they planned to shoot down American helicopters.
A deal to bring Bout home would be a major political victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, signaling to his domestic audience that despite unprecedented Western criticism and sanctions, he still has the power to force the White House to negotiate with him. .
Bloomberg reported that as part of an exchange, Moscow could ask for the release of a wealthy Russian businessman close to the Kremlin, Vladislav Klyushin, who pleaded not guilty in a Boston court in January to an alleged $82 million insider scam. Klyushin claimed the case against him was “politically motivated” because of his ties to the Russian government.