Brittney Griner's Trial on Drug Charge Begins in Russia - Rolling Stone
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Brittney Griner’s Trial on Drug Charge Begins in Russia

After four months in detention, Griner had first hearing for drug possession trial Friday

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Brittney Griner being escorted into a Russian court room in June 2022.

AP

Brittney Griner’s trial for cannabis possession in Russia began Friday with a hearing where prosecutors detailed the case against the WNBA star.

“Being sufficiently aware that the movement of narcotic drugs is not allowed… no later than February 17, 2022 at an unspecified location under unspecified circumstances from an unidentified person [Griner] bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil, totaling 0.702 grams,” the prosecutor said (via CNN).

The first hearing featured testimony from two witnesses, including an employee of the Sheremetyevo airport customs services where Griner was detained after cannabis oil was discovered in her backpack. Griner is expected back in court for a second hearing on July 7.

“[Griner] is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances and she asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and is keeping up the faith,” said US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood, who attended the hearing and spoke to Grinner. “The US government, from the highest levels, is working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained US nationals home.”

Griner previously appeared at a closed-door session at a court outside of Moscow on Monday, June 27, where it was announced that her detention would be extended for another six months as her trial finally moved forward. Griner could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the charge against her, “large-scale transportation of drugs.”

A representative for Griner did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

Griner has been detained in Russia for over four months. She was arrested in February after security at a Moscow-area airport allegedly found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her carry-on bag as she tried to enter the country (Griner is one of several WNBA players who plays in Russia during the off-season). Since her arrest, Griner’s pre-trial detention has been repeatedly extended, first by a month back in May, and then again earlier in June. 

In May, the U.S. government officially announced that it considered Griner “wrongfully detained” in Russia. The decision signaled that the U.S. would take a more active role in trying to negotiate and secure her release and that her supporters could speak more openly about her case. To that end, former New Mexico governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, reportedly agreed to work on Griner’s case as well.

It is possible that Griner could be involved in a prisoner swap similar to the one that brought home Trevor Reed, a former Marine arrested in Russia in 2019 and sentenced to nine years in prison (Richardson also worked on his case). Russian media outlets have reportedly floated a swap involving Griner and Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, who’s serving 25 years in the U.S. for conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and aiding a terrorist organization.

In a recent CNN interview, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked if Griner and another American detained in Russia — Paul Whelan, who’s serving 16 years on an espionage conviction — could be part of a swap for Bout. 

“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” Blinken said. But “I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.”

This story was updated 7/01/22 at 11:50 a.m. ET with details about Griner’s first court hearing.

In This Article: Brittney Griner, Russia, WNBA

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