Handcuffed Brittney Griner Appears in Russian Court

WNBA star's trial is to start July 1 amid speculation of a possible prisoner swap
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 27, 2022 9:10 AM CDT
Handcuffed Brittney Griner Appears in Russian Court
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Monday, June 27, 2022.   (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

More than four months after she was arrested at a Moscow airport for alleged cannabis possession, a Russian court set a trial start date of July 1 for US basketball star Brittney Griner. The Phoenix Mercury star was also ordered on Monday to remain in custody for the duration of her criminal trial, per the AP. She could face 10 years in prison if convicted on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the US, acquittals can be overturned.

A handcuffed Griner appeared Monday for a preliminary hearing behind closed doors at a court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization. Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years. But the discrepancy between Griner’s case—she allegedly was found in possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil—and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to the US.

Others have suggested that she could be traded in tandem with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as a set-up. “As a general proposition ... I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken on CNN on Sunday. But “I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.” Any swap would apparently require Griner to first be convicted and sentenced, then apply for a presidential pardon.

(More Brittney Griner stories.)

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