October 3, 2022

MOSCOW (AP) — Closing 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 has reached the highest levels of U.S. diplomacy -Russia.

Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Although a conviction seems almost certain, given that Russian courts rarely acquit defendants and Griner has acknowledged that there were cannabis oil vaporizers in her luggage, judges have a lot of leeway in sentencing.

Attorneys for the Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist have pursued strategies to bolster Griner’s claim that she had no criminal intent and that the containers ended up in her luggage due to hasty packing. They presented character witnesses from the Russian team she plays for in the WNBA offseason and written testimony from a doctor who said he prescribed cannabis for pain treatment.

It is unclear when the verdict will be announced. If she is not released, attention will turn to the high possibility of a prisoner exchange.

Before her trial began in July, the State Department designated her as “unreasonably detained,” moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.

Then last week, in an extraordinary move, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for an espionage conviction, they would be released. .

The Lavrov-Blinken call marked the highest known contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia sent troops to Ukraine more than five months ago. Griner’s direct approach runs counter to US efforts to isolate the Kremlin.

People familiar with the proposal say it envisions trading Griner and Whelan for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout. It underscores the public pressure the White House has faced to free Griner.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday that Russia responded “in bad faith” to the US government’s offer, a counteroffer that US officials do not consider serious. She declined to provide further details.

Russian officials have derided US statements on the case, saying they show disrespect for Russian law. They remained poker-faced, urging Washington to discuss the issue through “quiet diplomacy without disclosure of speculative information.”

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