Brittney Griner appears in Russian court as lawyers plead for leniency


Accompanied by a masked police officer with a dog, her wrists cuffed, American basketball star Brittney Griner appeared before a Russian court on Tuesday for a new hearing in a trial that is likely to end with her conviction by mid-month. said.

Mrs. Griner, one of the best players of her generation, is embroiled in a confrontation between Russia and the United States over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As the case goes to court, bickering over Ms. Griner has increasingly shifted into the diplomatic arena, with Russia and the United States signaling its possible involvement in an exchange for high-profile Russians in US custody.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the US government had “put a substantial proposal on the table,” though he declined to discuss the details. On Thursday, he discussed the matter with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, in their first phone call since the war in Ukraine. But no breakthroughs were reported and no progress is expected before Anna S. Sotnikova, a judge in the city of Khimki, near Moscow, issues a ruling in the case.

Ms. Griner, 31, was detained at a Moscow airport about a week before the Russian invasion of Ukraine while en route to Yekaterinburg, Russia, to play for a local team. Customs officers found two vape cartridges containing less than one gram of hash oil in her luggage.

However, the news of her detention only became public after the outbreak of the war. She was charged with attempting to smuggle a significant amount of illegal narcotics into Russia, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Last month, Ms. Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, stressing that she had no intention of breaking Russian law and that the illegal substance was in her luggage as a result of inattention while packing. In Russia, a plea of ​​guilty does not end a trial, and according to her legal team, the process is expected to last until mid-August.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Griner’s lawyers called in an expert who testified that the state’s analysis of vape cartridges did not meet Russian legal requirements.

So it would be wrong to determine the exact amount of the illegal substance, said Aleksandr Boikov, Mrs. Griner’s lawyer. According to the Russian penal code, the severity of the sentence depends, among other things, on the amount of narcotics found in the suspect’s possession.

Mrs. Griner’s legal team tries to convince the judge to soften the final sentence. They let one of Mr. Griner, Yevgeniya Belyakova, testify, along with the director and doctor of the team. Her legal team has also argued that she was allowed to use medical cannabis in Arizona, where she has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, to relieve pain from injuries to her spine, ankle and knees.

During her own court testimony last week, Ms Griner described how she had faced a confusing and at times baffling Russian legal system during her detention. Her rights were not explained to her and she was not given a lawyer until 16 hours after her detention began, she said. Ms. Griner also said she was told to sign papers with no explanation of what they contained and that an interpreter, supplied by law enforcement officers, translated “almost nothing.”

The hearing was adjourned until Thursday, when both sides will present their closing arguments, said Maria Blagovolina, a lawyer with the firm Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners, which also represents Ms Griner.

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