Britney Griner briefly appeared in court

The hearing at the Khimki Court of the Moscow Region ended about an hour later, and Griner was escorted out of the courtroom.

She will be cross-examined on Wednesday, her lawyers said.

Griner, a two-time Olympian, pleaded guilty to drug possession earlier this month, but the US State Department said she was wrongfully detained. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

Griner’s supporters have called for her release over fears that she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war with Ukraine.

The previous hearing on July 15 ended without a verdict after her lawyers asked for a postponement of the hearing to give the athlete time to prepare. On Tuesday, the fifth hearing in Griner’s criminal case, US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rude attended.

The trial is expected to end early next month.

Basketball star Phoenix Mercury, 31, was arrested in February at a Moscow airport with less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner, who plays in Russia during the WNBA offseason, has since been in custody on charges of drug smuggling. Her trial began in early July.

Prosecutor at the beginning of the trial in Moscow accused Griner or the deliberate importation of drugs into Russia.
According to state news agency RIA Novosti, Griner told the court that she did not intend to commit the crime and that it was because she packed in a hurry. Her defense told the Russian judges what was prescribed for her medical cannabis for “severe chronic pain”.
Megan Rapinoe and Steph Curry among the stars call for the release of Britney Griner at the ESPY Awards

The defense hopes that the statement will be taken into account by the court as a mitigating circumstance and the sentence will not be harsh.

According to a source close to her, only Griner made the decision to plead guilty. But in recent weeks, Griner, her family, lawyers and experts have been actively discussing the decision. Given Russia’s 99 percent criminal conviction rate, Griner was urged to weigh all factors, including a statement that could ultimately result in a reduced sentence.

Some have speculated that Griner could be released and returned to the US in exchange for prisoners, as was the case with Trevor Reid, an American veteran who was detained in Russia for three years before being released in April.

However, prior to any potential prisoner swap, Griner was expected to be convicted and plead guilty, a senior US official told CNN. According to the official, Reid had to sign a document saying he was guilty – something he resisted for almost the entire duration of his detention – just a few days before he was released.

“Please don’t forget about me”

Many in the WNBA, as well as other athletes, coaches, and politicians, called for Griner’s release. Griner wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, which was delivered to the White House this month, saying she feared she would be detained in Russia indefinitely.

“I understand that you are dealing with so many problems, but please don’t forget about me and other American prisoners. Please do your best to bring us home,” Griner wrote. “I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so many good things to do with my freedom and you can help restore it.”

Griner has supporters in Russia, where did she play during the WNBA offseason. The former teammate, along with the director of the Yekaterinburg UMMC — the team Griner played with in western Russia until her contract expired following her arrest — testified at an earlier hearing.

“Britney has always been a good teammate, so my role here is to support her and be there for her,” team captain Evgenia Belyakova said after the hearing.

Belyakova, the former captain of the Russian national team, added: “We really miss her and her energy. I was very glad to see her. I hope the process ends soon and ends well.”

This story has been updated with additional events and background information.

Anna Chernova of CNN, Abby Phillip, Dakin Andone and Alaa Elassar contributed to this report.