Basketball star Brittney Griner returned to a Russian courtroom on Tuesday as her trial on charges of possessing cannabis when she entered the country earlier this year continues. Griner, a WNBA champion and Olympic gold medal winner, was detained at an airport near Moscow in February after customs agents reportedly found vape cartridges containing a total of less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.
Wearing handcuffs, Griner was escorted into the courtroom in Khimki, the Moscow suburb where the airport is located, for the seventh hearing of the trial and placed in a cage reserved for defendants. While confined, she held up personal photos in the view of those present in the courtroom.
Griner has pleaded guilty and admitted to bringing the vape cartridges with her into Russia, although she testified that she was not sure how they made their way into her luggage. She also told the court that she did not intend to violate Russian law.
Defense Team Challenges Evidence Against Griner
During Tuesday’s hearing, Griner’s defense team challenged the analysis of the vape cartridges and questioned prosecution witness Alexander Korablyov, who examined the cartridges taken from Griner’s luggage. The defense also presented an expert witness who said the analysis of the cartridges was not performed in accordance with Russian law.
“The examination does not comply with the law in terms of the completeness of the study and does not comply with the norms of the Code of Criminal Procedure,” forensic chemist Dmitry Gladyshev testified during the court hearing that lasted about two hours, according to a report from CNN.
After the hearing, Blagovolina said the analysis was not compliant because it did not establish the percentage of THC of the cannabis oil contained in the cartridges. Another lawyer representing the basketball star, Aleksandr Boikov, said that “it would be wrong to establish the exact amount” of cannabis the cartridges contained based on Korablyov’s analysis.
Griner’s defense team has also presented evidence to the court that she had obtained a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana under Arizona’s state medicinal cannabis program.
“There are a lot of factors that will taken by the court into account,” Blagovolina told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing, adding that Griner “admitted that she did bring something, but we need to know what she did bring.”
Griner’s trial will continue on Thursday, when attorneys are expected to deliver their final statements. Blagovolina said that Griner is focused but nervous as the verdict approaches.
“She still knows that the end is near, and of course she heard the news so she’s hoping that sometime she could be coming home, and we hope, too,” Blagovolina added.
Elizabeth Rood, the charge d’affaires of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, attended Tuesday’s hearing. Afterward, she said that the U.S. would “continue to support Miss Griner through every step of this process and as long as it takes to bring her home to the United States safely.”
U.S. Offers Prisoner Exchange
Despite her guilty plea, Griner has been classified as wrongfully detained by the U.S. State Department. A conviction in the case could clear the way for Griner to be released in a potential exchange of prisoners by Russia and the United States.
Last week, the administration of President Joseph Biden revealed that the U.S. government has extended an offer to swap Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine being held in Russia on espionage charges, in a prisoner exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday that Russia has made a “bad faith” response to the offer from the U.S. government. Without elaborating, she said that U.S. officials do not consider the counteroffer from Russia to be serious. When asked about the Biden administration’s most recent House comments referring to the Russian counteroffer, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to provide any details.
“Any exchange of information on the subject should be discreet without any ‘loudspeaker diplomacy,’” he told reporters. “Public exchange of positions will not yield any result.”
Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center who has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, including the team’s 2014 league championship crew. She has also won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team two times.
Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the winter, a common practice among WNBA players. She earns about $1 million per season to play in Russia, about four times the salary she earns playing for Phoenix.