WNBA star Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom in Khimki City Court near Moscow, Russia, on Thursday. Photo by Maxim Shipenkov/EPA-EFE
Aug. 4 (UPI) — Lawyers for WNBA star Brittney Griner are expected to deliver closing arguments Thursday as U.S. officials work diplomatic angles to free her after she’s been held in Russia for nearly six months on drug charges.
Griner, 31, faces 10 years in prison after pleading guilty last month to smuggling vape cartridges in her luggage that contained less than 1 gram of hashish oil, which is illegal in Russia despite her having a medical prescription for the items.
The two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist, who’s been jailed since her arrest at the Moscow airport Feb. 17, last week testified in her own defense and said she’d packed the vape cartridges by accident and that she had no “intention” of breaking Russian law.
During a seventh day of testimony this week, an expert chemist took the stand for the defense and testified for nearly two hours, saying Russia hadn’t complied with its own laws during an examination of the items Griner had.
“The examination does not comply with the law in terms of the completeness of the study and does not comply with the norms of the Code of Criminal Procedure,” forensic chemist Dmitry Gladyshev said according to CNN.
Griner’s defense team has also claimed defects in the mechanism used by Russia to measure chemical substances.
Last week, her attorneys said Griner had a medical prescription for cannabis to treat chronic pain and Griner pleaded guilty to the charges last month in a bid for leniency. In Russia, criminal trials play out in court even if a defendant pleads guilty.
The judge in Khimki City Court outside Moscow was expected to hand down sentence within a matter of days. Griner’s conviction in the case is all but certain as nearly 100% of defendants in Russia are convicted during trial.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said last week that that “a substantial offer” had been put on the table,” for Griner’s release, adding that he’d also pressed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the release of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been held in a Russian prison since late 2018 after being convicted of espionage.
Whelan’s name has come up as part of a potential prisoner swap that would free he and Griner in exchange for the United States freeing convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Russian officials confirmed this week that those talks are ongoing but that “a concrete result” was not yet in place.
Experts on Russian law say the full legal process must play out with Griner admitting guilt and being convicted and sentenced before Russian officials would begin to consider a prisoner swap.
Some of Griner’s supporters say she is being held as political leverage for Russia for its war in Ukraine. While the U.S. State Department has officially declared Griner as “wrongfully detained,” family members have pushed the Biden administration to take stronger measures to free her.
Whelan’s family, meanwhile, said they were hopeful but cautiously optimistic that the imprisoned Marine could be set free as part of Griner’s case.
“If Paul is left behind again it will be really hard, and yet we realize that Ms. Griner’s case is a different case and it’s a different person and it’s a different family, and the U.S. government has to deal with each of these cases one by one,” he said Tuesday according to The Hill.