Brittney Griner Russian trial resumes: Character witnesses speak

While Brittney Griner pleaded guilty last week, an admission of guilt does not automatically end a trial in the Russian justice system.

MOSCOW, Russia – American basketball star Brittney Griner did not testify on the third day of her drug possession trial in Russia, but the director of the Russian team she plays for off-season said he told the court about her merits.

Griner was arrested at the Russian capital’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February when customs officers said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She has been in prison ever since, and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Last week, Griner pleaded guilty. She admitted in court that she possessed the canisters but said she had no criminal intent and said its presence in her luggage was due to hasty packing. She was supposed to testify in court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where the airport is located, on Thursday, but didn’t.

In the Russian judicial system, a trial does not automatically end with an admission of guilt.

Most journalists were denied access to Thursday’s hearing, but the manager of UMMC Ekaterinburg, for whom she plays when the WNBA is not in season, said he testified as a character witness.

“Our task today was to tell the court about her qualities as an athlete and as a person – to tell how she played a huge role in the success of the Ektaerinburg club and Russian women’s basketball as a whole,” club director Maxim Rybakov told reporters outside the courthouse

“Today is the first day we’ve seen our basketball player since February. Thank God she’s fine, she looks good,” Rybakov said.

The next rehearsal session is scheduled for Friday.

“I can say that Brittney has always been a very good teammate, so my role here is just to be with her and support her. We miss her a lot, we miss her energy. I was very happy to see them and I hope that this process will be completed soon and with a positive result,” said teammate Evgenia Belyakova, who also testified.

With the US government under pressure at home to do more to secure their freedom, their guilty plea last week could be an attempt to speed up the court process so all negotiations can move forward. A senior Russian diplomat said Moscow could not take any action until the end of the process.

Griner is one of the United States’ most prominent female athletes, a standout for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said they would do whatever they could to secure the release of Griner, as well as other Americans the US considers “wrongly imprisoned” by Russia, including former Marine Paul Whelan.

However, Washington may have little leverage over Moscow because of strong hostility over its military operation in Ukraine.

Russian media have speculated that Griner could be swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Dealer of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US after being convicted of conspiring to murder US citizens and provide aid to one Terrorists had been convicted organization.

Russia has been campaigning for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy in the seriousness of their cases could make such a deal unpalatable to Washington. Others have suggested Griner could be traded alongside Whelan, who is serving 16 years in Russia on a spy conviction the US has described as a trap.

The State Department’s designation of Griner as a wrongfully imprisoned puts her case under the oversight of the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator. The classification irritated Russia.

Asked whether Griner could be swapped out for a Russian jailed in the US, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, the senior Russian diplomat, noted that until the end of their trial, “there are no formal or procedural grounds to discuss any further steps.” speak. ”

Ryabkov warned that US criticism, including describing Griner as wrongly imprisoned and derogatory comments about Russia’s judicial system, “makes it difficult to engage in a detailed discussion of a possible replacement.”

Griner’s detention was granted until December 20, suggesting the process could take months. However, Griner’s attorneys said they expect to close in early August. Brittney Griner Russian trial resumes: Character witnesses speak

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