Griner drugs trial suspended after US official faints in court
US women’s basketball player Brittney Griner is expected to be cross-examined in her Russian drugs smuggling trial this week, although proceedings on Tuesday were suspended after a member of the American Embassy delegation fainted in the courtroom.
Griner is facing up to 10 years in a Russian prison after banned hashish vape oil cartridges were found in her luggage at a Moscow airport in mid-February.
Her trial resumed at Khimki City Court just outside the Russian capital on Tuesday, when the 31-year-old’s legal team called on a narcologist, Mikhail Tetyushkin, to testify.
Tetyushkin said that cannabis oil found in Griner’s luggage is used in various countries for medical purposes to treat injury, rather than for recreational use – with that assertion forming part of Griner’s defense.
Griner has already pleaded guilty to carrying the substance in her luggage, but said it ended up there by mistake when she was packing in a hurry.
Her defense team previously showed that the player had a prescription for cannabis from a US doctor for “severe chronic pain.”
Appearing in court for her latest hearing, Griner wore glasses and a dark hoodie bearing the slogan “Black Lives for Peace” written on it.
Inside the cage used for defendants, she held up photos of her supporters back in the US, including her wife, Cherelle.
According to reports from the courtroom, the session was suspended when a member of the US Embassy delegation became unwell, apparently because of the heat.
Medical help was called and the deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy, Elizabeth Rood, later said the person was fine. Russian media outlet RIA said it was a man of about 60 years old who had fainted.
Griner could be called on to testify on Wednesday, although her team said they expect several more hearings until the case concludes.
A two-time Olympic champion, Griner was traveling to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WBNA offseason.
The star, who usually plays for the Phoenix Mercury in her homeland, has played on lucrative contracts in Russia since 2015.
She was arriving at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on a flight from New York on February 17 when she was detained.
The US State Department has officially classified Griner as “wrongfully detained,” with accusations from some quarters that she is being used as a “political pawn.”
There have been unconfirmed reports that Griner could be used in swap deal for Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who is serving 25 years in a US prison on claims of arms dealing.
The Kremlin has refuted claims that Griner’s detention is politically motivated, pointing out that she has pleaded guilty and stressing that she should not be treated as an exception from Russian law simply because she is a foreigner.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova cautioned Washington last week against conducting a public “pantomime” which would undermine Griner’s interests, rather than help them.
Griner has exchanged letters with US President Joe Biden after a plea for help, although her wife, Cherelle, has said she lacks faith in the administration’s efforts to free her spouse.
US Embassy official Rood told reporters on Tuesday that Brittney Griner is “doing okay and is as well as can be expected under the circumstances.”