Brittney Griner is currently facing drug possession charges. A Russian basketball coach has testified in her defense.
Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow, was the place where Phoenix Mercury player Phoenix Mercury was taken into custody. She was returning to Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg during the US Women’s National Basketball Association off-season.
According to police, she had vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her bag.
Griner, 31 years old, was taken into custody in December. She pleaded guilty last Wednesday to charges that could lead to her being sentenced to up to 10 years imprisonment.
The plea was considered to be an attempt to speed up the court proceedings.
She appeared before a Moscow court on Thursday where Maxim Ryabkov (the boss of UMMC Yekaterinburg), the Russian club Griner plays in the American off-season, testified to her good character.
Reuters’ report was however produced in Russia where there are restrictions on some coverage. This includes the reporting of Russian military operations in Ukraine.
Ryabkov was reported to have spoken to the court about Griner’s “outstanding capabilities as a player” and “personal contribution to strengthening team spirit”.
Yevgenia Belyakova, team captain, also testified at the defense court in Khimki on the outskirts Moscow to Griner’s earlier arrival under guard and handcuffs.
Griner’s lawyer Maria Blagovolina said that it was an “extremely emotional day for Brittney”, but that she had been “touched” by the presence of the club director, head doctor and her teammate who “given an extremely positive description of her personally and professionally.”
“No intention to commit any crime”
A guilty plea in Russia does not automatically mean that the trial is over.
Griner’s defense may present arguments during the hearing in order to reduce punishment or even a verdict.
Griner, who is widely considered to be the best offensive player in WNBA, is one of the WNBA’s greatest ever stars. Griner is also a double Olympic gold medallist.
She stated that she did not intend to commit a crime at a plea hearing held on July 7, and that she had unintentionally acted because she was in a rush to get to Moscow.
Brittney Griner: Who are you?
US President Joe Biden, and Antony Blinken, secretary of state, said that they are doing everything they can to secure Griner’s release. Griner is one of many Americans considered “wrongly held” by Russia . This includes former marine Paul Whelan.
A senior Russian diplomat said that Moscow cannot take any action until the trial is concluded.
Elizabeth Rood (charge d’affaires at US embassy Moscow) and other American officials were present at Griner’s trial. They were able speak with Griner in the courtroom.
A spokesperson stated that she is doing well in these difficult circumstances.
Russian media speculate that Griner could be traded for Viktor Bout (Russian arms trader), who is currently serving a 25 year sentence in the US for conspiracy to kill US citizens as well as providing assistance to terrorist organisations.
A Kremlin spokesperson said that they don’t comment on prisoner swaps.
Griner’s arrest was authorized up to 20 December.