Brittney Griner to testify in Russian court as trial continues

A lawyer for Griner — who arrived in handcuffs at the Khimki regional court near Moscow on Wednesday — confirmed the two-time Olympic gold medalist would testify, adding that prosecutors will also have a chance to question her.

Griner has been detained in Russia since February, when authorities said they found cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport and accused the WNBA player – who plays in Russia during the competition’s off-season – of smuggling significant amounts of narcotic resources.

Griner pleaded guilty earlier this month, a decision the defense hopes will be considered by the court and may lead to a less severe sentence. But the US State Department has classified her as wrongfully detained and her supporters have called for her release, fearing she could be used as a political pawn amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The decision to plead guilty belonged to Griner alone, a source close to her said. For weeks, Griner, her family, lawyers and experts had discussed the decision at length, and given the reported 99% conviction rate in Russian criminal cases, Griner was urged to weigh all the factors, including a plea that could ultimately result in a shorter punishment .

At the beginning of her trial, a prosecutor accused Griner of intentionally smuggling drugs into Russia, but Griner later told the court she had no intention of committing a crime, according to state media agency RIA Novosti. The cannabis oil was in her luggage, she said, as a result of her rush to pack.

Griner’s lawyers have told Russian judges that their client had been prescribed medicinal cannabis for “severe chronic pain”, and in a hearing Tuesday they claimed the cannabis oil was for medicinal purposes and not recreational use.

A narcologist called as an expert witness for the defense testified that this was likely based on Griner’s prescription, as “medicinal cannabis is a popular treatment especially among athletes” outside of Russia, according to Maria Blagovolina, another of Griner’s lawyers.

However, Boykov stressed that the defense’s position is not that Griner “may import” banned substances into Russia, but they hoped to show the court “even in the United States, where it is allowed, they occasionally use these substances.” used as directed by a physician, solely for medical purposes to relieve pain.”

“We continue to maintain that through indiscretion she hastily packed her suitcase and paid no attention to the fact that substances allowed for use in the United States ended up in this suitcase and arrived in the Russian Federation,” Boykov said. .

Tuesday’s hearing, like the previous one, was attended by US Embassy ChargĂ© d’affaires Elizabeth Rood. The trial is expected to end early next month, Griner’s lawyers have said.

Some have speculated that Griner could be released in a prisoner swap similar to Trevor Reed, an American veteran who was held in Russia for three years before being released in April.

But for an eventual prisoner swap, Griner was expected to have to be convicted and also admit guilt, a senior US official previously told CNN.

Brittney Griner stands in a cage awaiting a court hearing.
Griner’s arrest has become a focal point for high-profile American athletes, including USWNT star Megan Rapinoe and four-time NBA champion Steph Curry, who urged listeners to stay focused on getting her release at last week’s ESPY Awards.

“As we hope for the best, we are urging the entire global sports community to remain energized on its behalf,” Curry said, as WNBA stars Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith joined the issue.

“She is one of us, the team of athletes in this room tonight and around the world. A team that has nothing to do with politics or global conflict.”

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, spoke with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris earlier this month after she publicly criticized the government’s response to her wife’s detention.

Cherelle Griner said she was “grateful” for the call, but added that she would remain “concerned and candid” until her wife got home.

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