American basketball player Brittney Griner was back in court on Tuesday for her trial for cannabis possession amid U.S. diplomatic efforts to gain her release.
During the hearing, prosecutors called a state drug expert who examined cannabis found in Griner’s luggage. Her defense fielded a specialist who contested the study, arguing that it was defective and didn’t conform to established rules.
Griner was taken into court in handcuffs and placed inside a cage at the trial in Khimki, a town on the northern fringe of Moscow. While in the cage, she held up personal photos.
The trial was adjourned until Thursday when closing remarks are expected.
If convicted, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star and two-time Olympic gold medalist could face 10 years in prison. As her trial has advanced, the Biden administration has faced mounting public pressure to have her released.
In an unexpected step, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week called his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, pushing him to accept a settlement under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, would go free.
The US offered a substantial offer’ to obtain the release of Britney Griner and Paul Whelan: official
The Lavrov-Blinken call constituted the highest level of engagement known between Washington and Moscow since Russia dispatched soldiers to Ukraine more than five months ago.
People familiar with the proposal say it envisages swapping Whelan for Greiner for renowned arms dealer Viktor Bout. It demonstrates the public pressure the White House faced to free Griner.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Russia has offered a “bad faith” response to the U.S. government’s offer, a counteroffer that American authorities don’t see as genuine. She declined to elaborate.
Griner has admitted that her luggage included vape canisters containing cannabis oil when she was stopped at the Moscow airport in February. She argued, however, that she had no illegal intent and that the canisters wound up in her suitcase due to her hurried packing. In the WNBA offseason, Griner played for a Russian women’s basketball squad.
Her defense attorneys have presented testimony from doctors stating that cannabis was prescribed for her as a painkiller. Medical marijuana treatment is not authorized in Russia.
“The court will consider a number of elements,” Griner’s attorney Maria Blagovolina told reporters following Tuesday’s session, adding that Griner “confessed that she brought something, but we need to know what it was.”
While Russian law allows judges to consider mitigating circumstances, acquittals are uncommon, accounting for less than 1% of criminal cases.
However, a conviction might theoretically pave the way for Griner’s swap, since Russian officials stated that it could only occur following the conclusion of the judicial process.
In an interview with Tom Firestone, a former legal adviser at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and a lawyer in Washington, stated that Griner could be given a harsh sentence in order for the Russians to “maximize their advantage” in negotiations. He told The Associated Press that Russia “may prefer to let this play out a bit longer in an attempt to extract further concessions.”