(NEW YORK) — Brittney Griner’s legal team is set to present evidence at the WNBA star’s trial in Russia on Tuesday as pressure mounts on the Biden administration to secure her release.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was visiting Russia to play basketball in the offseason when she was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport after being accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country.
The Phoenix Mercury star was expected to testify last week, but her testimony was delayed until Wednesday at the request of her legal team so she could have more time to prepare. If convicted, Griner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison and also has a right to an appeal.
Griner pleaded guilty on drug charges in court last week, saying that the vape cartridges containing hashish oil were in her luggage mistakenly.
Griner’s attorney presented a letter from an American doctor in court earlier this month, giving Griner permission to use cannabis to reduce chronic pain.
Griner, who has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, said she had no “intention” of breaking Russian law and did not mean to leave the cartridges in her bag.
Her legal team told ABC News in a statement last week that her “guilty” plea was recommended by her Russian attorneys.
“Brittney sets an example of being brave. She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people,” the attorneys said in the statement. “Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence.”
Her trial, which is taking place in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, began on July 1 as the U.S. government works to secure her release.
Earlier this month, several Russian individuals testified in court as character witnesses about their experience with the Phoenix Mercury player, who also played in the WNBA offseason for UMMC, a Russian basketball club in the city of Yekaterinburg.
The first witness was Maxim Ryabkov, the director of UMMC. The second witness was team doctor Anatoly Galabin, who said that Griner never tested positive for doping while playing for the team. A third witness, Evgenia Belyakova, one of Griner’s Russian teammates, said that Griner was the leader of the team.
The U.S. government classified Griner’s case on May 3 as “wrongfully detained.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters earlier this month that Griner’s guilty plea will have “no impact” on any of the negotiations to bring her home.
Calls to free Griner escalated following the May release of U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed, who was freed from a Russian prison as part of a prisoner exchange. Former Marine Paul Whelan has also been detained in Russia since 2019.
“This is something that is, as you’ve heard from us consistently, is an absolute priority for Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday. “We are working around the clock, behind the scenes, quietly, to do everything we possibly can to see to it that Brittany Griner’s ordeal, just as Paul Whelan’s ordeal, is put to an end just as soon as can be possibly managed.”
Price added that Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood, from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was expected to be at Griner’s hearings this week.
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