Brittney Griner back in Russian court, lawyer expects verdict ‘very soon’

Brittney Griner’s drug possession trial resumed in Russia on Tuesday — as her lawyer said she expects a verdict “very soon” amid a diplomatic push to secure the WNBA star’s release.

Griner, 31, was escorted into a Moscow court in handcuffs and placed inside a cage, where she held up personal photos.

During the hearing, prosecutors called a state narcotics expert who analyzed cannabis found in Griner’s luggage.

The basketball player’s defense then called a specialist who challenged the analysis, charging that it was flawed and didn’t conform to 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, CNN reported.

Griner’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm, said a verdict in the case was expected “very soon.”

The trial adjourned until Thursday, when closing arguments are scheduled.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist is pictured being led into a courtroom in Khimki outside Moscow during her high-profile trial.
Griner’s attorney said the WNBA star was nervous as she expected the verdict to be delivered “very soon.”
AFP via Getty Images

If convicted, the two-time Olympic champion could face 10 years in prison. As her trial has progressed, the Biden administration has faced growing public pressure to get her released.

In an extraordinary move, Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, would be traded for Viktor Bout, a jailed arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.”

The Lavrov-Blinken call marked the highest-level known contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine more than five months ago.

Blagovolina said her client was aware of Washington’s prison exchange offer and described her demeanor as both focused and nervous.

“She still knows that the end (of her trial) is near and of course she heard the news, so she is hoping that sometime she could be coming home,” the attorney said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday that Russia has made a “bad faith” response to the Biden administration’s offer — an unspecified counteroffer that Americans don’t regard as serious.

Tuesday’s hearing included testimony from drug experts about the cannabis that was found in Griner’s luggage.
Griner, pictured displaying personal photos in a cage, previously testified that she never intended to bring the cannabis cartridges into Russia, or use them there.

Griner has acknowledged there were vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage when she was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February.

But the hoops star insisted that she had no criminal intent to use the cannabis, which is illegal in Russia, while in the country. She insisted the canisters ended up in her luggage because she was “stress-packing” in a rush.

Griner played for a Russian women’s basketball team in the WNBA off-season.

To bolster her case, her defense lawyers have presented testimony from doctors that she was prescribed cannabis as a treatment for pain related to her sports injuries. Medical marijuana treatment is not legal in Russia.

“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.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Ken Cedeno/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

While judges have leeway to consider mitigating factors under Russian law, acquittals are rare and account for less than 1% of cases in Russian criminal prosecutions.

A conviction, however, could potentially pave the way for Griner’s exchange as Russian officials said it could only happen after the judicial process is completed.

Asked about the latest White House comment regarding the Russian “bad faith” counteroffer, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov wouldn’t offer 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.”

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