Wearing a black and gray sweatshirt with the slogan “Black lives for peace” printed on the back, Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was detained in Russia on drug charges, appeared in court on Tuesday near of Moscow as her defense team continued to present evidence that she had no intention of breaking the law.
She was escorted into a courtroom by a group of police officers, one of whom was wearing a balaklava, and stood in a metal cage, holding pictures of her relatives, teammates and friends, according to video footage from the scene published by Russian state television.
After being detained at a Moscow airport a week before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Ms Griner has become an unlikely pawn in a diplomatic game between Moscow and Washington. With his guilty plea making the verdict seem like a foregone conclusion, experts said his best hope is that the Biden administration can find a way to trade him for a high-profile Russian in US custody.
During court hearings, her defense team pleaded for leniency, saying Ms Griner had no intention of smuggling drugs into Russia and that, like many other international athletes, she had used cannabis to relieve pain from injuries.
A narcology expert testified in court on Tuesday, Ms Griner’s lawyers said, to present a case that in some countries, including the United States, medical cannabis “is a popular treatment, particularly among athletes.” .
“With the prescription in place, Brittney may have used it for medical purposes, but not recreationally,” said Maria Blagovolina, one of Ms Griner’s lawyers and a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin & Partners, a firm in Moscow.
At the previous hearing, the lawyers presented a note from Ms Griner’s doctor recommending cannabis to treat her pain. Ms Griner was also due to appear in court on Wednesday, when she may be called to give evidence.
Ms Griner had traveled to Russia because she was playing for a team in the country to earn extra money during the off-season. Russian customs officers discovered two vape cartridges containing hashish oil – a derivative of cannabis – in his luggage.
Ms Griner was taken into police custody near Moscow and charged with willfully smuggling vaping cartridges, a charge that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
On July 7, Ms Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, saying she unwittingly transported a banned substance to Russia because she had packed her bags in a hurry. The Russian authorities have signaled that no possible exchange can take place before a court verdict.
US officials said they were doing everything possible to get Ms Griner home, arguing she had been wrongfully detained. Last week Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said such statements were “political, biased and illegitimate”.
“If a US citizen was arrested for drug trafficking and she doesn’t deny it herself, that should be according to Russian law, not the laws passed in San Francisco,” Ms Zakharova said.
#Brittney #Griners #lawyers #plead #clemency #Russian #court