Brittney Griner testifies in Russian court during her drug trial : NPR

A guard removes Brittney Griner’s handcuffs before a hearing at the Khimki court outside Moscow on Wednesday.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

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Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

A guard removes Brittney Griner’s handcuffs before a hearing at the Khimki court outside Moscow on Wednesday.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Many lovers and supporters of American basketball star Brittney Griner have spoken out about her situation and called for her release since she was first detained in Russia in February on drug charges.

As her trial has unfolded over the past month, US-based lawyers have stepped up public pressure on the Biden government to bring her home, while members of the Russian team she plays for off-season testified in defense. of her character. on and off the track.

Griner herself has not made many public comments, other than a brief guilty plea in which she admitted to bringing cannabis to Russia – where it is illegal for both medical and recreational purposes – and insisted that she had hurriedly packed her bags and had no intention of breaking laws. She could face up to 10 years if convicted.

In a court hearing on Wednesday, the WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist finally took the stand to explain why she had the vape cartridges in the first place, how they ended up in her luggage and what happened to her after they were taken. discovers.

“She didn’t need much preparation because she just told her story and has had a lot of time to think about it since February,” Griner’s attorney, Alexander Boikov, told NPR after the hearing. “It’s not hard to tell the truth.”

Griner says her rights were not read at the time of her arrest

Griner testified that she traveled to Russia in February to join her Russian team, UMMC Yekaterinburg, for the playoffs. (It’s not uncommon for WNBA athletes to play for foreign teams off-season to supplement their income, which is significantly lower than their NBA counterparts.)

She flew to Moscow on February 17, amid growing global concerns that Russia would launch a large-scale invasion of Ukraine — which it did exactly a week later. Griner said she was determined to go because she didn’t want to let her team down.

Griner was stopped at the airport after customs officials found the vape cartridges in her luggage. She reiterated on Wednesday that she had not intended to take them to Russia, and suspected she had forgotten them because she was stressed and in a rush to catch her flight.

“To this day I still don’t understand how it got into my suitcases,” she told the court in her testimony.

While Griner says she forgot about the vape cartridges, she was well aware that she had to pack certain comfort foods from home, including her favorite Texas BBQ sauce and spices.

“L Like it to eat a lot,” she added.

She went on to describe a confusing scene at the airport. The Russian authorities were unable to provide a translation beyond basic words like “sign this,” forcing them to use Google Translate to try and understand what the documents were saying.

“I’ve been told what to do, but not why or what it means,” Griner said.

She also said her rights were never read at the airport.

Griner was given access to a lawyer before being questioned, but says translation problems persisted. She recalled that the court gave her a stack of documents, only for a translator to tell her, “Well, actually it says you’re guilty.”

Griner’s legal team said they would present more witnesses at next Tuesday’s hearing, and suggested that their closing arguments focus on violations of Griner’s legal rights.

“The arrest, the search, the arrest, they were imperfect,” Boikov told NPR.

Griner was prescribed medicinal cannabis for chronic pain

Griner previously stressed points made by her defense, specifically that she had inadvertently violated Russian law and that the hash oil in her bags was prescribed by law to address chronic pain problems.

She explained that she has a medical cannabis license in Arizona – where she plays for the Phoenix Mercury – and that a doctor had prescribed it to deal with a series of chronic injuries to her knee and ankle. She even said she had to be in a wheelchair for several months.

Griner’s Russian teammate and team doctor have already testified about the toll the sport has taken on her body and the fact that she’s never passed a drug test.

When asked why she used cannabis, Griner replied that the benefits of medical marijuana outweigh those – and the risks – of other strong painkillers. Griner’s defense had presented an expert witness to discuss how medical marijuana could be used to treat chronic pain at a hearing the previous day, but it was cut short due to the extreme heat in the courtroom.

Griner said she was only treated with medical cannabis during the rare breaks in her schedule, most recently in February. She said she would never use it in matches, not only because it could disqualify or suspend a team, but also destroy a player’s career.

“My career is my whole life,” she said at one point. “I’ve given up everything: time, my body, being away from my family. I’m away from everyone for six months of the year… There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my career and my team.”

The slow process is one step closer to a verdict

A Russian judge has ordered Griner to be detained for the duration of her trial, which her legal team said could be concluded in mid- to late August.

The Biden administration, which is “mistakenly detaining” Griner, says getting her home is a priority. Russia, which insists its case is not political, has expressed interest in arranging a prisoner swap, but says nothing can happen as long as the process is ongoing.

Some legal experts believe Griner’s admission of guilt is a strategy for a shorter trial and for leniency – especially given that Russian criminal courts have a reported 99% conviction rate.

Maynes reported from Russia. Treisman reported from Washington, DC

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