Brittney Griner prepares to testify this week in Russian trial

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RIGA, Latvia — WNBA star Brittney Griner confronted one other nerve-racking week in her Moscow trial on drug costs, along with her protection legal professionals persevering with to current their case testimony Tuesday and cross-examination by the prosecution anticipated Wednesday.

The Phoenix Mercury participant returned to courtroom Tuesday, the place her protection group continued to name witnesses to help their case for leniency after she pleaded responsible to the costs, which carry a possible sentence of as much as 10 years in jail.

Griner carrying a darkish hoodie with the phrases “Black Lives for Peace” on the again, spoke briefly to U.S. Embassy workers earlier than the trial resumed. She held up a photograph of supporters from the courtroom cage that’s used to safe defendants in Russian courtroom trials.

The deputy chief of mission on the U.S. Embassy, Elizabeth Rood, mentioned afterward that Griner confirmed “that she is doing okay and is in addition to might be anticipated underneath the circumstances.”

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Griner’s authorized group referred to as a drug professional, Mikhail Tetyushkin, who testified that hashish is used as a medical therapy for athletes in varied nations, together with the US. The protection introduced proof that Griner had examined damaging for marijuana.

Maria Blagovolina, a companion on the Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Companions legislation agency, mentioned after the listening to that Griner had used hashish oil for medicinal, not leisure, functions.

Griner’s different lawyer, Alexander Boikov, mentioned the protection was not making an attempt to argue that Griner had a proper to carry an unlawful substance into Russia. “We’ll proceed to insist that she was in a rush when she packed her baggage and didn’t discover that substances banned in Russia ended up in her suitcase and had been taken into Russia,” he mentioned.

“We insist that she had no intent. We need to present the courtroom with the assistance of the invited professional that even within the U.S. the place the usage of medical marijuana is allowed, she used these substances sporadically, strictly as prescribed by her physician to alleviate ache syndrome.”

He mentioned the protection would press for essentially the most lenient doable punishment. Blagovolina mentioned the protection expects a number of extra hearings earlier than the trial concludes.

Tetyushkin mentioned the primary medical functions for hashish are as an anti-inflammatory substance, a therapy for ache and a relaxant.

The listening to was suspended after a consular official from U.S. Embassy delegation supporting Griner fainted because of the warmth within the courtroom. Rood later informed journalists that the official was high-quality.

Griner has been in custody since mid-February, after vape cartridges containing hashish oil had been present in her baggage at Sheremetyevo Worldwide Airport. She was arrested every week earlier than the invasion of Ukraine, when relations between the US and Russia had been strained. The Kremlin has rejected U.S. claims that she is being wrongfully held.

Griner pleaded responsible to the costs — that means she faces sure conviction — however she has informed the courtroom she didn’t intend to interrupt Russian legislation, explaining she was in a rush when she packed her luggage for Moscow.

The trial has widened the gulf between Washington and Moscow and intensified anti-American sentiment in Russia. State tv spews out aggressive propaganda every day, claiming that the US provoked Russia’s struggle towards Ukraine as a part of a plot to dismember the nation and gobble up its sources.

However Griner does have a effectively of sympathy in Yekaterinburg, the Urals metropolis the place she starred for the native group UMMC Yekaterinburg in a Russian league that pays Individuals beneficiant salaries to play through the WNBA offseason.

UMMC Yekaterinburg’s 1,000-member fan group on VKontakte, or VK, Russia’s model of Fb, largely helps Griner.

“I hope all ends effectively for Brittney and she will return to her household,” wrote a fan named Tatyana underneath a bunch put up that quoted group director Maksim Ryabkov’s character testimony on the trial earlier this month.

“A narrative that was blown out of proportion. Let the athlete go,” commented Nadezhda Maiga underneath a current picture picturing Griner in a courtroom cage.

However some see the cost as justified, provided that marijuana is against the law in Russia.

“The truth that she was arrested is right, however I feel to offer her 5 years for that’s too harsh as a result of she didn’t carry it to promote, however for herself,” wrote one other VK person, Dmitry Butakov.

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Final week, the protection introduced medical certificates indicating that Griner suffers from continual ache and was prescribed medical hashish by an Arizona physician.

Griner’s protection mentioned the athlete is predicted to testify Wednesday earlier than she faces questions from the prosecutor and decide. After her testimony and cross-examination, the protection will relaxation its case.

It isn’t clear when the decision and sentence will likely be handed down. Within the remaining levels of the case, the prosecutor and protection will sum up their instances, and the prosecutor will spell out what punishment the state is searching for. Griner will likely be given a “remaining phrase” — the defendant’s final probability to handle the courtroom in regards to the costs.

Some Individuals have voiced concern that an brazenly homosexual Black lady may face authorized bias in a rustic with a protracted historical past of racism and discrimination towards the LGBTQ neighborhood.

Trevor Reed, a former Marine just lately free of a Russian jail in a prisoner change in April, mentioned final month at a rally in Griner’s help that she is “in a whole lot of methods in a worse place” than he was “as a result of Brittney is African American.”

With political and diplomatic ties between Washington and Moscow in a deep freeze, sports activities and cultural ties are additionally fraying, and it appears unlikely that WNBA gamers will proceed to play in Russia. Griner’s American teammates in Yekaterinburg — Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Jonquel Jones — flew residence after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

The U.S. State Division has warned Individuals to not journey to Russia.

The White Home says that Griner is being held in “insupportable circumstances” and that it’s going to do all it might probably to have her launched with different wrongfully detained prisoners, together with Paul Whelan, an ex-Marine arrested in 2018, convicted of spying in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in jail. He denies the costs, saying he was arrange.

Russian officers have condemned the general public strain in the US for Griner’s launch whereas hinting that Russia could also be keen handy her over in a prisoner swap — however solely after the trial is accomplished.

Nonetheless, Moscow’s phrases could also be tough for Washington to just accept: Media hypothesis is rising a couple of doable change involving Russian arms vendor Viktor Bout, who’s at the moment serving a 25-year sentence in Illinois for conspiring to kill U.S. nationals and promoting weapons to terrorists.

The White Home and State Division have mentioned that liberating Griner and different wrongfully held Individuals is their highest precedence.

Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

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