Brittney Griner appeared in Russian court on Friday to begin her trial, where the WNBA star faces up to 10 years in prison on drug smuggling charges.
Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist and a Phoenix Mercury player who plays in Russia during the WNBA’s off-season, has been detained since February, when two vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were allegedly found in her luggage at a Moscow airport.
At Friday’s trial, a Russian prosecutor accused Griner of moving a “significant amount” of hashish oil, a substance that is illegal and classified as a narcotic drug in Russia.
“Being sufficiently aware that the movement of narcotic drugs is not allowed… no later than February 17, 2022 at an unspecified location under unspecified circumstances from an unidentified person [Griner] bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil, totaling 0.702 grams,” the prosecutor said, according to an official Russian state news agency TASS reporter who was in the courtroom.
The prosecutor called two witnesses during the trial — the customs agents who searched Griner’s bag when she was first arrested in Russia on Feb. 17. Her lawyers have stated to CNN that they cannot disclose any of the information that was revealed during the testimony.
After Friday’s hearing, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Elizabeth Rood said the embassy was able to speak with Griner in the courtroom.
“She is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances, and she asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and is keeping up the faith,” Rood said. “The U.S. government, from the highest levels, is working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals home.”
In May, the U.S. Department of State determined that Griner is being “wrongfully detained,” a special classification that indicates a more aggressive approach in securing her release. Her arrest came less than a week before Russia launched its Ukraine invasion.
Griner’s detention, which was recently extended for a fourth time, has sparked a growing wave of supporters who have called for her release, as many fear that she is being used as a political pawn amid rising tensions between the United States and Russia.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has urged President Biden to strike an exchange deal with Russian authorities to release Griner and bring her home as soon as possible. However, Griner’s lawyers, Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina, told CNN on Friday that they were unaware of any plans for a prison swap.
Russian law experts assert that Griner’s best option is to obtain release through diplomatic channels rather than the legal system. According to AP News, less than one percent of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the United States, acquittals can be overturned.
“It’s really, really difficult. This is not a situation where the rhetoric is matching the action,” Cherelle told CNN on Thursday. “I do have to unfortunately push people to make sure that the things they’re telling me is also matching their actions, and so it’s been the hardest thing to balance because I can’t let up. It’s over 130 days and BG’s still not back.”
Griner has made no public statements since her detention. Many of the details of her trial are still unclear and unknown.
According to NPR, Griner was not asked to declare if she is innocent or guilty in Friday’s hearing. One of her lawyers told NPR that prosecutors will likely have four hearings before the defense gets its turn. Her trial will continue on July 7 at 2:30 p.m. Moscow time.