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Brittney Griner to appear in court amid trial as US officials try to negotiate prisoner swap

The scheduled appearance in a courtroom near Moscow will mark Griner’s seventh hearing as Russian prosecutors accuse her of trying to smuggle less than a gram of cannabis oil into her luggage while traveling through a Moscow airport in February.

During the trial, Griner testified that she has a doctor’s prescription for medical cannabis and had no intention of bringing the drug into Russia. After her arrest in February, she underwent a drug test and came back clean, her lawyers previously said.

Griner pleaded guilty last month, a decision her lawyers hope the court will take into account and possibly lead to a less severe sentence. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury and is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, is playing in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason. US officials have characterized her arrest as illegal detention and are facing enormous pressure from Griner’s family, lawmakers and the professional basketball community to bring Griner home. Griner herself wrote a letter to President Joe Biden pleading with him to do everything in his power to facilitate her release.
Amid that pressure and after months of internal debate, the Biden administration has proposed a prisoner swap with Russia, offering to release a convicted Russian arms dealer in exchange for Griner and another American prisoner, Paul Whelan, people familiar with the matter told CNN. on the subject.
Russian officials countered the U.S. offer, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions, asking that in addition to arms dealer Viktor Bout, the U.S. also include a convicted murderer who was a former Russian spy agency colonel, Vadim Krasikov.

US officials did not accept the request as a legitimate counteroffer, the sources told CNN, in part because the proposal was sent through an informal FSB backchannel. Krasikov’s release would also be complicated because he is currently in German custody.

“It’s a bad-faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States has made, and we urge Russia to take that offer seriously,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told CNN, adding later: “We very much want Let’s see Brittany and Paul go back to their families where they belong.”

Meanwhile, Griner’s trial continues, with her legal team expected to continue questioning more witnesses before moving on to closing arguments, in which lawyers will explain why they believe Griner’s detention was mishandled. Final arguments will likely take place in the coming weeks, and no verdict is expected at Tuesday’s hearing.

Lawyers speak of “improper” detention

Griner’s lawyers have already made some arguments that the basketball player’s detention was mishandled after she was stopped by staff at Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17.

Griner’s detention, search and arrest were “improper,” Alexander Boykov, one of her lawyers, said last week, noting that more details would be revealed during the final hearing.

After being stopped at the airport, Griner testified that she was made to sign documents she did not fully understand. At first, she said, she used Google Translate on her phone, but was later moved to another room where they took her phone and made her sign more documents.

An attorney was not present, she testified, and said her rights were not explained to her. These rights would include access to a lawyer once detained and the right to know what she was suspected of. Under Russian law, she should have been informed of her rights within three hours of her arrest.

In her deposition, Griner “explained to the court that she knows and respects Russian laws and never intended to violate them,” one of Griner’s lawyers, Maria Blagovolina, said after last week’s hearing.

The arrested player testified that she was aware of Russian laws and had no intention of bringing the cannabis oil into the country, saying she was in a hurry and “stressed out.”

Griner confirmed she has a prescription for medical cannabis, Blagovolina said, which she uses to treat knee pain and joint inflammation.

“We continue to insist that, indiscriminately, hastily, she packed her suitcase and did not pay attention to the fact that substances permitted for use in the United States ended up in that suitcase and reached the Russian Federation,” Boykov said. he said.

Griner’s family, supporters and her WNBA teammates continue to express messages of solidarity and hope as they await the conclusion of the trial and look forward to the possibility of her release.

Before the trial last week, the WNBA players’ association he tweeted“Dear BG… It’s early in Moscow. Our day is ending and yours is just beginning. Not a day or an hour goes by that you’re not in our minds and hearts.”

CNN’s Travis Caldwell, Anna Chernova, Dakin Andone, Kylie Atwood, Evan Perez, Jennifer Hansler, Natasha Bertrand, Frederik Pleitgen, Chris Liakos and Zahra Ullah contributed to this report.

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