Brittney Griner’s All-But-Predetermined Trial Begins

Griner on Friday. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

The trial of Brittney Griner, the WNBA superstar who was arrested for allegedly bringing hashish oil into Russia, began on Friday.

Griner, who had long played in a Russian basketball league as well as the WNBA, was led into court wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, at which point prosecutors unveiled their full case against the star. Per the Russian news agency Tass, the indictment against Griner states that she brought two cartridges of hash oil into the country. Two customs workers who allegedly discovered the cartridges testified for the prosecution. The next hearing is scheduled for July 7; the prosecution will have three more days to make its case.

Though Griner’s defense team will eventually have its day in court, the vast majority of cases in Russia that go to trial end in conviction, and observers expect Griner’s to follow that pattern. She faces up to ten years in prison if found guilty on charges of drug-smuggling — charges widely seen as trumped up and politically motivated. The best hope for her release probably involves swapping her for a Russian prisoner in the U.S. — perhaps the arms dealer Viktor Bout, who goes by the nickname “the Merchant of Death.”

At a press conference, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Russia was bringing the case for political reasons, but few will be convinced.

Griner was arrested shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has been classified by the U.S. State Department as being “wrongfully detained,” a designation that allows the U.S. government to intervene more aggressively on her behalf. Representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow were in attendance at the trial. Elizabeth Rood, the charge d’affaires at the embassy, said in a statement that Griner “is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances.”

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, told CNN on Thursday that she wants to see the government do more to win Griner’s release and that “this is not a situation where the rhetoric is matching the action.” She has received letters from Griner, but the U.S. Embassy botched a planned phone call between the two in June.

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Brittney Griner’s All-But-Predetermined Trial Begins