• Brittney Griner begged a judge to issue a lenient sentence that would not "end my life" in Russia.
  • On Thursday, the WNBA superstar was found guilty "with criminal intent" on drug-smuggling charges.
  • Griner was first detained in February when Moscow airport officials found vapes with cannabis in her luggage.

As her trial concluded in Russia, Brittney Griner begged for a sentence that "doesn't end my life" in Russia in her closing arguments Thursday.

Despite repeated appeals for leniency, the WNBA superstar and two-time Olympic gold medalist was found guilty with criminal intent and sentenced to nine years in Russian prison.

"I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, UMMC, the fans, and the city of Ekaterinburg for the mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought to them," Griner said in her closing statements. "I want to also apologize to my parents and my siblings, my Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home."

Griner is escorted through a Russian court building. Foto: REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

"I never meant to hurt anybody," she continued. "I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here. I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn't end my life here."

Griner added that she has heard talk about being a political pawn and hopes that politics are "far from this courtroom." 

She continued: "I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russian law. I had no intent. I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime. I hope that you take into account all of the documents, all of the character lists that everybody sent in on my behalf."

Griner holds a photo of WNBA All-Stars wearing her name and number on their jerseys. Foto: AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov

Griner has been held in a Russian prison since February when she was arrested at a Moscow airport for carrying vape cartridges in her luggage. 

"This is my second home and all I want to do is just win championships and make them proud," Griner said of her Russian team. 

Reporting suggests that Russia will immediately send Griner to a penal colony. President Joe Biden announced in May that the US government was classifying Griner as "wrongfully detained" and later declared a national emergency to help free wrongful detainees.

Griner walks past cameras. Foto: Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP

Sources have long told Insider that her best hopes of an expedient return home lies in a prisoner swap between the US and Russia. Last week, the Biden administration signaled that it had offered to swap a convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, in exchange for the early release of both Griner and Paul Whelan — a former US Marine also detained in Russia.

Russia has yet to formally respond to the administration's offer, but suggested that they are interested in the swap if the US helps to free an additional convict — a Russian national who was tried, sentenced, and imprisoned for murder in Germany.

John Kirby, the Biden administration's National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, slammed Russia's counteroffer as "a bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States has put forward."

Griner. Foto: REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

Moscow officials fired back that "loudspeaker diplomacy" wouldn't succeed in bringing the detained Americans home, signaling that the US and Russia were still quite far from agreeing to a deal.

But President Biden offered a near-immediate rebuke of Griner's lengthy sentence. And given the mounting pressure on the administration to bring the eight-time WNBA All-Star home — professional athletes like LeBron JamesMegan Rapinoe, Steph Curry, and all 22 of this year's WNBA All-Stars have publicly called for her release — the administration will almost certainly face increasing urgency to act.

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