Brittney Griner’s trial resumes amid intensified diplomacy

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MOSCOW — Since Brittney Griner final appeared in her trial for hashish possession, the query of her destiny has expanded from a tiny, cramped courtroom on Moscow’s outskirts to the very best degree of Russia-U.S. diplomacy.

The WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist returns to court docket on Tuesday, a month after the start of the trial through which she may face 10 years in jail if convicted. Because the trial has progressed, the Biden administration has confronted rising requires motion to win her launch.

In a rare transfer, Secretary of State Antony Blinken final week spoke to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, urging him to simply accept a deal below which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, would go free.

Though particulars of the supply stay shrouded, Blinken’s public announcement of a proposal was at odds with the conference of holding prisoner-release negotiations tightly below wraps. When American Trevor Reed, serving time for assaulting a police officer, was freed in April in alternate for a Russian drug trafficker, no clues of an imminent swap had emerged.

The Lavrov-Blinken name additionally was the highest-level identified contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia despatched troops into Ukraine greater than 5 months in the past. The direct outreach dangers undermining a core message to U.S. allies that isolating Russia may drive the eventual withdrawal of troops from Ukraine.

It additionally underlines the general public strain that the White Home has confronted to get Griner launched, which has introduced some backlash. Former President Donald Trump strongly criticized the proposal that individuals acquainted with it have stated envisions buying and selling Griner and Whelan for the infamous arms dealer Viktor Bout.

“He’s absolutely one of the worst in the world, and he’s going to be given his freedom because a potentially spoiled person goes into Russia loaded up with drugs,” Trump stated.

White Home Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre advised reporters Monday that Russia has made a “bad faith” response to the U.S. authorities’s supply, a counteroffer that American officers don’t regard as critical. She declined to elaborate.

Griner, talking from the defendant’s cage in a courtroom that hardly holds a dozen individuals, has acknowledged there have been vape canisters containing hashish oil in her baggage when she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February. However she says she had no felony intent and that the canisters ended up in her baggage as a result of she was packing swiftly. Griner performed for a Russian ladies’s basketball group within the WNBA low season.

To bolster her case, her protection legal professionals have referred to as character witnesses from her Russian group, UMMC Ekaterinburg, and introduced testimony from medical doctors that she was prescribed hashish as a remedy for ache. Medical marijuana remedy is just not authorized in Russia.

Her legal professionals say they hope such testimony will deliver leniency from the choose, who they are saying below Russian legislation has leeway to think about mitigating elements.

Acquittals are uncommon in Russian felony prosecutions — lower than 1% of instances. Sentences could be suspended.

If a conviction is a foregone conclusion, it will additionally doubtlessly be a step ahead. Russian officers have stated no launch of Griner may happen till the judicial course of is accomplished.

Nonetheless, a Washington legal professional who previously was authorized adviser on the U.S. Embassy in Moscow stated there is no such thing as a formal requirement for a conviction earlier than an alternate.

“If she is in fact being used as a political bargaining chip — and the administration has already designated her as wrongfully detained, presumably because they think she is being used as a political pawn — they may impose a very significant sentence as a way to maximize their leverage in negotiations,” the legal professional, Tom Firestone, advised The Related Press.

He additionally stated that, given the Biden administration’s public dedication to securing the discharge of Whelan and Griner, Russia “may want to let this play out a little bit longer and try to extract more concessions.”

Russian officers have given no public trace of whether or not Blinken made headway in his name with Lavrov, solely issuing an announcement urging the People to pursue the matter although “quiet diplomacy without releases of speculative information.”

Russia has repeatedly expressed annoyance with American statements on the case, saying they present a disrespect for Russian legislation.

Eric Tucker in Washington DC contributed to this story.

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