Video from an NPR reporter showed the two-time Olympic gold medal winner entering and leaving court, apparently without commenting, in the custody of officials. She previously had been ordered to remain in pretrial detention until July 2.
The 31-year-old Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was stopped Feb. 17, shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at Sheremetyevo International Airport and accused of carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia. Like many WNBA players who head overseas during the offseason, Griner plays in Russia to supplement her income.
The U.S. State Department has categorized Griner as “wrongfully detained,” a strategy shift that indicated it would no longer wait for the case to proceed through the Russian legal system and would take more aggressive steps to negotiate her release. If convicted on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs, she could face 10 years in prison. According to the Associated Press, fewer than one percent of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and acquittals can be overturned.
“Our position for some time on this has been very clear. Brittney Griner should not be detained. She should not be detained for a single day longer,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a June 14 press briefing.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, told the AP last week that she has “zero trust” in the government’s handling of the situation after a planned phone call between the two did not occur because of what the State Department said was a “logistical error” involving the U.S. Embassy in Russia.
“I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now,” Cherelle Griner said. “If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”
As her case has drawn increasing attention, supporters have called for a prisoner swap, like the one in which Marine veteran Trevor Reed was exchanged for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy in April.
Russian news media has speculated that she could be exchanged for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization. However, the disparity in their crimes makes that unlikely to be acceptable to the U.S.
And 40 min later the preliminary hearing is over. No comment from Griner. Her Russian lawyer says the judge extended her detention for the length of her trial. No date set. Curiously, no US embassy officials present for the hearing. #BrittneyGriner pic.twitter.com/FSYprXjSgs
— Charles Maynes (@cwmiii3) June 27, 2022
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.