Wearing a black and gray sweatshirt with “Black Lives for Peace” printed on the back, Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia on drug charges, appeared in court near Moscow on Tuesday while his defense team continued to present evidence that he had not intended to break the law.
She was escorted into the courtroom by a group of police officers, one of them wearing a balaclava, and stood in a metal cage with pictures of her family members, teammates and friends, according to video images of the scene published by Russian state television.
After being detained at a Moscow airport a week before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Griner has become an unexpected pawn in a diplomatic game between Moscow and Washington. With her guilty plea making the verdict seem like a foregone conclusion, experts said her best hope was that the Biden administration could find a way to trade her for a high-profile Russian held by the United States.
During court hearings, her defense team argued for leniency, saying that Ms. Griner did not intend to smuggle narcotics into Russia and that, like many other international athletes, she had used cannabis to help ease the pain of injuries. .
A narcology expert testified in court Tuesday, Griner’s lawyers said, to make a case that in some countries, including the United States, medical cannabis “is a popular treatment, specifically among athletes.”
“With the current prescription, Brittney may have used it medically, but not recreationally,” said Maria Blagovolina, one of Griner’s lawyers and a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin & Partners, a firm in Moscow.
At the earlier hearing, attorneys presented a note from Ms. Griner’s doctor recommending cannabis to treat her pain. Griner was also expected to appear in court on Wednesday, when she could be called to testify.
Ms. Griner had traveled to Russia because she was playing for a team in the country to earn extra money during the off-season. Russian customs officials discovered two vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a derivative of cannabis, in her luggage.
Ms Griner was arrested near Moscow and charged with deliberately smuggling vape cartridges, a charge that can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
On July 7, Ms. Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, saying she had inadvertently brought a banned substance into Russia because she had packed in a hurry. The Russian authorities have indicated that no possible exchange can take place before a verdict in court.
US officials have said they are doing everything possible to return Ms Griner home, arguing that she was wrongfully detained. Last week, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said such statements were “political, biased and illegitimate.”
“If a US citizen was arrested on drug charges and she herself does not deny it, then this should be under Russian law, not the laws adopted in San Francisco.” Ms. Zakharova said.