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Russian prosecutors ask for 9 1/2-year prison sentence for Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner in detention in Russia.
Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool/AP Photo

  • Russian prosecutors have lobbied for a 9 1/2-year sentence for the WNBA superstar Brittney Griner.
  • Griner was arrested and tried after Russian airport officials said they found drugs in her luggage.
  • The Olympian faces a maximum sentence of 10 years, but her defense team has lobbied for leniency.

Russian prosecutors asked a judge to give a 9 1/2-year prison sentence to Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who has been on trial in the country over drug-smuggling charges.

The WNBA superstar has been detained in Russia since February, when customs agents at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

Brittney Griner.
Griner with Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

More than four months after she was taken into custody, and just days into her trial, Griner pleaded guilty to the charges. Sources told Insider the guilty plea could be a strategic attempt to get a reduced sentence, as Russian courts have a greater than 99% conviction rate and were never likely to acquit the American star.

Griner and her defense team have appealed for leniency throughout the trial, citing the marijuana prescription the 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury center received from an Arizona doctor and saying she inadvertently brought the vapes to Russia after packing her bag in a hurry. Still, sources told Insider they were skeptical the Russian courts would show her any mercy.

The eight-time WNBA All-Star's charge of large-scale transportation of drugs carries a maximum sentence 10 years in Russian prison. She has already served nearly six months since she was detained.

Brittney Griner.
Griner is escorted from a hearing.
Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP

Insider's sources have long said that a prisoner exchange is Griner's most likely path to freedom. And just last week, news broke that the US government had offered to trade the convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Paul Whelan, a US Marine veteran also detained in Russia.

Bout, known to many as the "Merchant of Death," is notorious for fueling wars around the world through his illicit weapons-sales enterprise. Many people — including his sentencing judge in the US — told Insider they would endorse the swap.

Russia has not formally responded to the offer. But reports suggest the Kremlin has attempted to include a Russian murderer — who was tried, convicted, and imprisoned in Germany — in the Bout-Griner-Whelan exchange.

DEA agents escort Viktor Bout (center) off the plane after he was extradited to the United States.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents escort Viktor Bout off a plane after he was extradited to the US.
U.S. Department of Justice via Getty Images

John Kirby, the Biden administration's National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, slammed Russia's counter as "a bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States has put forward." Moscow officials responded by saying "loudspeaker diplomacy" wouldn't succeed in bringing the detained Americans home, which signaled that the US and Russia were still quite far from agreeing to a deal.

Meanwhile, Andrew Roth, a Moscow correspondent for The Guardian, reported that a verdict in Griner's trial could come as soon as Thursday evening local time. The basketball star's attorney said this week that Griner was "quite nervous," as she knew her verdict and sentencing were imminent, but that she's grateful for the outpouring of support she'd received stateside.

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