WNBA's Brittney Griner goes on trial in Russian court - Albuquerque Journal

WNBA’s Brittney Griner goes on trial in Russian court

MOSCOW — American basketball star Brittney Griner went on trial Friday, 4 1/2 months after her arrest on charges of possessing cannabis oil while returning to play for a Russian team, in a case that has unfolded amid tense relations between Moscow and Washington.

The initial session of the trial, which was adjourned until July 7, offered the most extensive public interaction between Griner and reporters since the Phoenix Mercury center and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.

Griner, 31, was escorted into the courtroom in the capital’s suburb of Khimki while handcuffed, carrying a water bottle and what appeared to be a magazine, and wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt.

Police have said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil when detained at the airport. She could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs.

The state-owned Tass news agency quoted Griner as saying in court that she understood the charges against her. Asked by the judge if she wanted to enter a plea, Griner responded, “At this moment, no, your honor. At a later date,” according to Mediazona, an independent news site known for its extensive coverage of high-profile court cases.

Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in U.S. courts, acquittals can be overturned.

Two witnesses were questioned by the prosecution: an airport customs official, who spoke in open court, and an unidentified witness in a closed session. according to the state news agency RIA-Novosti. The trial was then adjourned, it said, when two other witnesses did not show up.

Alexander Boykov, an attorney for Griner, said outside court that he did not want to comment “on the specifics of the case and on the charges” because it was too early to do so.

Boykov also told RIA-Novosti that she has been exercising and taking walks in the detention area. The Russian website Business FM said that Griner, who smiled at times at reporters, said she wishes she could work out more and that she was struggling because she doesn’t understand Russian. Besides the WNBA’s Mercury, she played in Russia for UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Elizabeth Rood, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was in court and said she spoke with Griner, who “is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances.”

“The Russian Federation has wrongfully detained Brittney Griner,” Rood said. “The practice of wrongful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and is a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad.”

She said the U.S. government, from its highest levels, “is working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals home safely.”

At a closed-door preliminary hearing Monday, Griner’s detention was extended for another six months, to Dec. 20.

Her case comes at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations. Griner was arrested less than a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, which aggravated already high tensions between the two countries. The U.S. then imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow, and Russia denounced the U.S. for sending weapons to Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday denied politics played a role in Griner’s detention and prosecution.

“The facts are that the famous athlete was detained in possession of prohibited medication containing narcotic substances,” Peskov told reporters. “In view of what I’ve said, it can’t be politically motivated,” he added.

Griner’s supporters had kept a low profile in hopes of a quiet resolution until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and shifted oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs — effectively the U.S. government’s chief negotiator.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has urged President Joe Biden to secure her release, calling her “a political pawn.”

“It was good to see her in some of those images, but it’s tough. Every time’s a reminder that their teammate, their friend, is wrongfully imprisoned in another country,” Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said Monday.

Griner’s supporters have encouraged a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.

Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.

Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between Griner’s case — which involves alleged possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil — and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to the U.S.

Others have suggested that she could be traded along with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction that the U.S. has repeatedly described as a setup.

Andrew Katell contributed from New York.

Home » Sports » Pro » WNBA’s Brittney Griner goes on trial in Russian court


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Boxing: Perez prevails
Boxing/MMA
By Rick Wright For the Journal ... By Rick Wright For the Journal In a largely tactical fight between two talented young boxers, experience counts. Albuquerque’s Abraham Perez defeated Californian Isaac ...
2
Isotopes pushing for series wins in season's home stretch
Featured Sports
not only player development — is ... not only player development — is a priority, the standings would suggest things aren't going well for Albuquerque's Triple-A baseball team. But even at ...
3
Sports Speak Up! Watching Faldo ride off into the ...
Featured Sports
MANY TEARS were shed at the ... MANY TEARS were shed at the Wyndham Classic with Sir Nick Faldo saying goodbye as the leading golf analyst alongside CBS' Jim Nantz. With ...
4
Isotopes' Week of Wynton is emotional for Isotopes too
Featured Sports
Two former first round picks were ... Two former first round picks were blown away this week seeing Wynton Bernard get called up to the big leagues after 11 years in ...
5
Rockies' Bernard makes MLB debut after decade in minors
Featured Sports
Wynton Bernard finally got his chance ... Wynton Bernard finally got his chance to play in the major leagues a decade after he was drafted by the San Diego Padres, and ...
6
Reliever Ken Giles designated for assignment by Mariners
Featured Sports
Right-hander Ken Giles, an Albuquerque native, ... Right-hander Ken Giles, an Albuquerque native, was designated for assignment Friday by the Seattle Mariners, who had signed the reliever last year when he ...
7
Tears of joy fill Isotopes' locker room after Bernard ...
ABQnews Seeker
After more than 1,000 games and ... After more than 1,000 games and a decade in the minors, Wynton Bernard gets his Major League call up to the Colorado Rockies.
8
Isotopes to celebrate Al Hurricane on Friday
Featured Sports
Al Hurricane is part of the ... Al Hurricane is part of the soundtrack to backyard barbecues, family get-togethers and summer nights ...
9
Pint's baseball return brings former top pick to 'Topes
Featured Sports
From 2016 first round draft pick ... From 2016 first round draft pick to 2021 MLB retiree, Riley Pint is back in the game with the Isotopes and loving baseball again.