Brittney Griner shares message with wife as WNBA star’s drug trial in Russia resumes
As Brittney Griner returned to court in Russia on Tuesday for her drawn-out drug trafficking trial, the American basketball star told ABC News she had a message for his wife, Cherelle, a recent college graduate. right.
“Good luck on the bar exam,” Griner said.
Griner spoke briefly to ABC News during a break in proceedings Tuesday at a courthouse in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. When asked if she had any complaints, she replied, “No, no complaints. I’m patiently waiting.”
She arrived in court that morning with two photographs in a clear plastic sleeve. When asked during the break who was in the photos, she told ABC News, “My wife. My two best friends, my teammates.”
Griner’s legal team continued to present evidence and called another witness to testify Tuesday as pressure mounts on the United States to secure his release.
Griner, a 31-year-old Houston native who plays professional basketball for the Phoenix Mercury, was returning to Russia to play in the WNBA offseason when she was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki on February 17, after being accused of vaping. cartridges containing hash oil, which is illegal in the country.
Cherelle Griner told ABC News that she “sporadically” communicated with Brittney Griner by mail, but hasn’t spoken to her by phone since her arrest. The US government had arranged for the couple to go online on the phone last month, on their fourth anniversary, but that date had to be postponed due to a “logistical error”, according to the Department of Health spokesperson. State, Ned Price.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was due to give evidence last week, but her testimony was postponed until Wednesday at the request of her legal team so she could have more time to prepare. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison and also has the right to appeal.
Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in court last week, saying the vape cartridges containing hash oil were mistakenly found in his luggage. She said she had no “intention” to break Russian law and did not want to leave the cartridges in her bag.
His legal team told ABC News in a statement last week that his “guilty” plea was recommended by his Russian lawyers.
“Brittney sets an example of courage. She has decided to take full responsibility for her actions because she knows she is a role model to many people,” the attorneys said in the statement. “Given the nature of his case, the insignificant amount of BG’s substance and personality, and his positive contributions to world and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating and that there will be no serious sentence.”
Since Griner’s trial began on July 1, several Russians have testified in court as witnesses to their experience with center Phoenix Mercury, who also played in the WNBA offseason for UMMC, a Russian basketball club. of the city of Yekaterinburg.
The first witness was Maxim Ryabkov, the director of UMMC. The second witness was team doctor Anatoly Galabin, who said Griner had never tested positive for doping while playing for the team. A third witness, Evgenia Belyakova, one of Griner’s Russian teammates, testified that Griner was the team leader.
One of Griner’s attorneys also presented a letter from an American doctor to the court earlier this month, authorizing Griner to use cannabis to reduce chronic pain.
On Tuesday, a Russian narcologist, Dr. Mikhail Vityushkin, testified that cannabis is often used by professional athletes to treat sports injuries because of its therapeutic properties, including analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. However, with constant use, it can impair motor coordination and reaction time, which is why athletes shouldn’t take it constantly, according to Vityushkin. He also noted that there are no international standards to differentiate medical cannabis from a drug.
The US State Department classified Griner’s case on May 3 as “wrongfully detained.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters earlier this month that Griner’s guilty plea will have “no impact” on negotiations to bring her home.
Calls to free Griner intensified after the May release of US Navy veteran Trevor Reed, who was freed from a Russian prison in a prisoner exchange. Former Marine Paul Whelan has also been detained in Russia since 2019.
“This is something which, as you have constantly heard, is a top priority for the secretary [of State Antony] Blinken,” Price, the State Department spokesman, told reporters at Monday’s press conference in Washington, D.C. “We are working around the clock, behind the scenes, quietly, to do whatever we can ensure that Brittany Griner’s ordeal, just like Paul Whelan’s ordeal, is ended as soon as possible.”
Price added that Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood of the US Embassy in Moscow was scheduled to attend Griner’s hearings this week.
ABC News’ Shannon Crawford, Henderson Hewes, Max Karmen and Joseph Simonetti contributed to this report.
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