WNBA star Brittney Griner returns to Russian court as trial resumes

KHIMKI, Russia – A lawyer for WNBA star Brittney Griner during her trial on drug possession in Russia on Friday gave the court a U.S. medical letter in which she recommended that she use medical cannabis to treat pain.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and unique to the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February after customs officials found vape containers containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of transporting drugs.

In court last week, Griner pleaded guilty and pleaded guilty to possession of the containers, but said she had no criminal intent and said they were in her luggage because she quickly packed back to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball teams during the WNBA offseason.

In Russia’s legal system, admitting guilt does not automatically end a lawsuit. Since this plea, her hearings have focused on personal and written testimony of her good character and athletic ability.

“The attending physician gave Brittney recommendations for the use of medical cannabis,” said her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina. “The permit was issued on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health.”

The defense also presented in Friday’s tests she underwent as part of an anti-doping check, which did not detect banned substances in her system.

The next hearing on Griner’s case was scheduled for July 26.

US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have said they are doing everything they can to win her release, as well as other Americans whom the US considers “wrongly detained” by Russia, including former Marine Paul Whelan serving his sentence 16 years after an espionage sentence.

Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock sent a letter to Blinken on Friday seeking answers to several questions regarding Griner’s situation.

“What option are you considering in the ongoing negotiations?” asked Warnock. “Are you able to ensure that Brittney does not remain in custody during the trial? Do you have any indication of what the Russian government would accept in return for her release?

“I recognize the complexity of the current situation, but Brittney Griner cannot fall victim to geopolitical events and autocratic war. I urge you to continue rapid negotiations to ensure her immediate release.”

However, Washington may have little influence over Moscow due to strong hostility over its military operation in Ukraine.

“In the hearings yesterday and today, what became very clear is the enormous amount of respect and admiration both in the United States and here in Russia, where Miss Griner has been playing basketball for seven years, not only for her professional performance, but for her character and integrity, “said US Embassy Prosecutor Elizabeth Rood outside the courthouse in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where the airport is located.

The director and team captain of UMMC Ekaterinburg testified on her behalf on Thursday.

Russian media have speculated that Griner could be swapped with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death”, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States after being convicted of conspiracy to kill American citizens and provide aid to a terrorist organization.

Russia has been agitating for Bout’s release for years. But the great discrepancy in the seriousness of their cases could make such a trade unpleasant for Washington. Others have suggested that Griner could be traded with Whelan, who is serving 16 years in Russia because of an espionage conviction that the United States has described as a setup.

The State Department’s designation of Griner as wrongfully detained moves her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, in fact the government’s chief negotiator for hostages. The classification has irritated Russia.

Asked about the possibility of Griner being exchanged for a Russian prisoner in the United States, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, the senior Russian diplomat, noted that until her trial is over, “there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about further steps. “

Ryabkov warned that US criticism, including the description of Griner as unjustly detained and dismissive comments about the Russian legal system, “makes it difficult to engage in a detailed discussion of possible exchanges.”

Griner’s detention has been approved until Dec. 20, suggesting the trial could take months. Griner’s lawyers, however, said they expect it to be completed around the beginning of August.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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