Brittney Griner returns to Russian Court as lawyer begging for leniency

Escorted by a masked policeman with a dog, her wrists cuffed, American basketball star Brittney Griner appeared in a Russian court on Tuesday for another hearing in a The trial is likely to end with her sentence by the middle of this month, her lawyers say.

One of the best players of her generation, Ms. Griner was caught up in the confrontation between Russia and the United States over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As the case went to trial in the courtroom, anger over Griner’s fate increasingly turned into the diplomatic realm, as Russia and the United States signaled that she might enter into an exchange for valuables. senior Russians are being held by the United States.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the US government had “put an important proposal on the table”, though he declined to discuss details. On Thursday, he discussed the issue with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, in their first phone call since the war in Ukraine. But no breakthrough has been reported, and no progress is expected before Anna S. Sotnikova, a judge in the town of Khimki, near Moscow, delivers a verdict in the case.

Ms. Griner, 31, was detained at a Moscow airport when she arrived in Yekaterinburg, Russia, to play for a local team there about a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Customs officials found two vape boxes containing less than a gram of hash oil in her luggage.

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

Last month, Ms. Griner pleaded guilty, stressing that she did not intend to violate Russian law and that the illegal substance had been in her luggage due to surveillance during hasty packing. In Russia, the plea does not end a trial and the proceedings are expected to continue until mid-August, according to her legal team.

On Tuesday, Griner’s lawyers called an expert who testified that the state-run analysis of vape boxes did not meet Russia’s legal requirements.

So “it would be a mistake to determine the exact amount” of the illegal substance, said Aleksandr Boikov, Griner’s lawyer. Based on Russian penal codeThe severity of the punishment depends on the amount of narcotics detected in the defendant’s possession, among other things.

Ms. Griner’s legal team is trying to convince the judge to reduce the final sentence. They had one of Griner’s Russian teammates, Yevgeniya Belyakova, testify, along with the team’s director and doctor. Her legal team also argued that she was allowed to use medicinal marijuana in Arizona, where she has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, to relieve pain from her spine, ankle and knee injuries. .

In her own testimony in court last week, Ms Griner described how while in custody she had to deal with the confusing and sometimes bewildering Russian legal system. She said her rights were not explained to her and an attorney was provided just 16 hours after her detention began. Ms Griner also said she was instructed to sign papers without explaining what they meant and that an interpreter provided by law enforcement translated “virtually nothing”.

Maria Blagovolina, an attorney for Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners, also representing Griner, said the hearing had been adjourned until Thursday, when both sides will present their closing arguments. .

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