Britney Griner back in Russian court as lawyers plead for leniency

Accompanied by a dog-masked police officer and handcuffed on her wrists, American basketball star Brittney Griner appeared in a Russian court on Tuesday for another hearing in a case that is likely to end in her conviction in the middle of this month. the lawyers said.

One of the best players of her generation, Ms. Griner has become embroiled in a rivalry between Moscow and Washington that has escalated into a direct confrontation over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And as the case is being heard in the courtroom, controversy surrounds Ms. Griner’s fate is increasingly shifting to the diplomatic arena as Russia and the United States signal her possible involvement in a swap for high-profile Russians held in the United States.

Last week, Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said the US government had “submitted a substantial proposal,” though he declined to discuss the details. On Thursday, he discussed the issue with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during their first phone call since the war in Ukraine. But no breakthroughs have been reported, and no progress is expected before a judge in Khimki, near Moscow, delivers a verdict on the case.

mr. Griner, 31, was detained at a Moscow airport while traveling to Yekaterinburg, Russia, to play for a local team there about a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Customs officers found two vape oil cartridges in her luggage.

However, her detention became known only after the outbreak of the war. She was charged with attempting to smuggle a significant amount of illegal drugs into Russia, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Last month, Mrs. Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, stressing that she had no intention of violating Russian law and that the banned substance ended up in her luggage as a result of an oversight while packing in a hurry. In Russia, a guilty plea does not end the trial, her lawyers say, and the trial is expected to run until mid-August.

The case is scheduled to reopen on Thursday.

Her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boikov, are trying to convince the judge to commute the final sentence. They had one of Mr. Griner’s Russian teammates Yevgeny Belyakova testify along with the team director and a 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 reduce pain from spinal, ankle and knee injuries.

During her own court testimony last week, Ms Griner described how she has faced Russia’s confusing and sometimes confusing legal system since her arrest. According to her, she was not explained her rights, and a lawyer was provided only 16 hours after the start of the detention. Mrs. Greener also said that she was ordered to sign the papers without explaining what they meant, and that the translator provided by law enforcement “translated almost nothing.”