Brittney Griner returned to Russian court for her drug possession trial on Tuesday amid U.S. efforts to negotiate a prisoner swap for her release.
During the hearing, the prosecution called in narcotics expert Alexander Korablyov, who analyzed the vape cartridges found in Griner’s luggage in February. The WNBA star’s defense team interrogated Korablyov and brought in a specialist who challenged his drug analysis, asserting that the examination was allegedly flawed and violated Russian law.
“The examination does not comply with the law in terms of the completeness of the study and does not comply with the norms of the Code of Criminal Procedure,” forensic chemist Dmitry Gladyshev testified for the defense during the two-hour hearing.
The 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury player sat inside the defendant’s cage in the courtroom on Tuesday while holding up personal photos of her loved ones.
Amid ongoing public pressure, the Biden administration has proposed a prisoner swap with Russia, offering to release convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” in exchange for Griner and Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was convicted of espionage and has been detained in Russia since 2018.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, urging him to accept the U.S. prisoner exchange deal.
“I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” Blinken told reporters. “I’m not going to characterize his responses and I can’t give you an assessment of whether I think things are more or less likely, but it was important that [he] hear directly from me on that.”
According to CNN, Russian officials have countered the Biden administration’s offer, requesting an exchange for Vadim Krasikov, a convicted murderer and former Russian spy agency colonel, in addition to arms dealer Viktor Bout. However, U.S. officials denied the request, asserting that it was a “bad faith” response.
“It’s a bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States has put forward, and we urge Russia to take that offer seriously,” U.S. Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby told CNN. “We very much want to see Brittney and Paul come home to their families where they belong.”
Griner’s lawyer Maria Blagovolina said the WNBA star is aware that the Biden administration had made a “substantial offer” to release American citizens being held in Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that any discussion of a possible prisoner swap needed to be discreet. “We still believe that any exchanges of information on this topic should be discreet,” Peskov told reporters. “Megaphone diplomacy and the public exchange of opinions will not lead to results.”
Blagovolina confirmed that a verdict in the case is expected “very soon,” according to Reuters.
Tuesday’s hearing was adjourned until Thursday. Closing statements from the defense and the prosecution are expected in the coming weeks.
“There are a lot of factors that will be taken by the court into account,” Blagovolina said after Tuesday’s hearing, adding that Griner “still knows that the end [of her trial] is near and of course she heard the news, so she is hoping that sometime [soon] she could be coming home.”