MOSCOW — Final arguments in Brittney Griner’s cannabis possession case in Russia are set for Thursday, nearly six months after the American basketball star was arrested at a Moscow airport in a case that reached the highest levels of US-Russian diplomacy.
Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Although a conviction seems all but certain, given that Russian courts rarely acquit defendants and Griner admitted there were vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in his luggage, judges have considerable leeway. in matters of sentencing.
Lawyers for center Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist pursued strategies to bolster Griner’s claim that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage due to rushed packing . They featured character witnesses from the Russian team she plays for during the WNBA offseason and written testimony from a doctor who said he prescribed cannabis for her for pain treatment.
It is not known when the verdict will be announced. If she is not released, attention will turn to the possibility of a prisoner swap.
Before her trial began in July, the State Department designated her as “wrongfully detained”, placing her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the chief negotiator of the government for the hostages.
Then last week, in an extraordinary move, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, would be released. .
The Lavrov-Blinken call marked the highest level of contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia sent troops to Ukraine more than five months ago. Direct outreach on Griner is at odds with US efforts to isolate the Kremlin.
People familiar with the proposal say she plans to trade Griner and Whelan for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout. This underscores the public pressure the White House faced to secure Griner’s release.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday that Russia had responded in “bad faith” to the US government’s offer, a counter-offer that US officials do not consider to be serious. She declined to elaborate.
Russian officials scoffed at US statements on the case, saying they showed disrespect for Russian law. They remained unmoved, urging Washington to discuss the issue through “quiet diplomacy without disclosing speculative information.”