WNBA: Court sets July 1 as the start of Griner’s trial

MOSCOW — More than four months after she was arrested at a Moscow airport for alleged possession of cannabis, a Russian court has set the start date for the trial of American basketball star Brittney Griner for this Friday, July 1.

The Phoenix Mercury star has also been ordered to remain in custody for the duration of his criminal trial. She could face 10 years in prison if she is convicted of large-scale drug transportation charges. Less than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the US, acquittals can be set aside.

On Monday, the court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki extended Griner’s detention for another six months after he appeared at a preliminary hearing held behind closed doors. Photos obtained by the AP of her showed her in handcuffs. Griner had previously been ordered to remain in pretrial detention until July 2.

Several officials and experts familiar with the Griner case told TJ Quinn that a trial — and conviction — were always likely developments, as they were for Americans Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan. Regardless of whether Russian prosecutors present convincing, misleading or entirely fabricated evidence against Griner, the sources said it doesn’t change the basic dynamic: Russia has indicated that it is willing to negotiate his release, and the legal proceedings are merely a pretext to put on a shine. of legitimacy in the saga.

Griner’s arrest and trial come at an extraordinarily low point in Moscow-Washington relations. She was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport less than a week before Russia sent troops to Ukraine, adding to already high tensions with sweeping US sanctions and Russia’s exposure of US arms supplies to Ukraine.

Amid the tensions, Griner’s supporters had lain low, hoping for a quiet resolution, until May, when the State Department reclassified her as wrongfully detained and transferred oversight of her case to its special presidential envoy for foreign affairs. of hostages, in fact, the main negotiator of the United States government.

That move has drawn further attention to the Griner case, with supporters cheering for a prisoner swap like the one in April that brought home Navy veteran Reed for a Russian pilot convicted of drug conspiracy.

The Russian media has repeatedly speculated that she could be traded for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to kill American citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization. terrorist.

Russia has sought Bout’s release for years. But the discrepancy between Griner’s case (she was allegedly found to be in possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil) and Bout’s global deals in deadly weapons could make that exchange unpleasant for America.

Others have suggested she could be traded along with Whelan, a former marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence for an espionage conviction that the United States has repeatedly described as staged.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when asked Sunday on CNN if a joint trade of Griner and Whelan for Bout was under consideration, sidestepped the question.

“As a general proposition … I have no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But “I can’t comment in detail on what we’re doing, except to say it’s a top priority.”

Apparently, any exchange would require Griner to first be convicted and sentenced, and then apply for a presidential pardon, Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil affairs, told the Kremlin-funded RT television channel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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WNBA: Court sets July 1 as the start of Griner’s trial