Examination of the substance in Brittney Griner's vape cartridges violated Russian law, defense expert says
Examination of the substance in vape cartridges WNBA star Brittney Griner's carried in February at a Moscow airport did not comply with Russian law, a defense expert testified Tuesday as her drug-smuggling trial in Russia continues amid US efforts to negotiate a prisoner swap for her release.
Among the violations is that results of the exam do not contain the amount of THC in the substance investigators tested, Griner's lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, said after the hearing.
"The examination does not comply with the law in terms of the completeness of the study and does not comply with the norms of the Code of Criminal Procedure," forensic chemist Dmitry Gladyshev testified for the defense during the roughly two-hour session.
The defense also interrogated prosecution expert Alexander Korablyov, who examined Griner's cartridges taken from her luggage.
Griner's appearance in the Khimki city courthouse marked her seventh hearing as Russian prosecutors accuse her of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. She has pleaded guilty to drug charges -- a decision her lawyers hope will result in a less severe sentence -- even as the US State Department maintains she is wrongfully detained, and she faces up to 10 years in prison.
Supporters of the two-time Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix Mercury center who plays in Russia during the WNBA offseason have called for her release over fears she is being used as a political pawn amid Russia's war on Ukraine. US officials face immense pressure from Griner's family, lawmakers and the professional basketball community to bring her home, and Griner wrote to President Joe Biden pleading with him to do everything in his power to facilitate her release.
The 31-year-old sat Tuesday inside the defendant's cage in the courtroom. The charge d'affaires of the US embassy in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, attended Tuesday's hearing and afterward said the US would "continue to support Miss Griner through every step of this process and as long as it takes to bring her home to the United States safely."
Griner's next hearing is set for Thursday.
At trial, Griner has testified she has a doctor's prescription for medical cannabis and had no intention of bringing the drug into Russia. Following her detention in February, she was tested for drugs and was clean, her lawyers previously said.
Amid public pressure and after months of internal debate, the Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap with Russia, offering to release a convicted Russian arms trafficker in exchange for Griner and another American detainee, Paul Whelan, people briefed on the matter have told CNN.
Russian officials countered the US offer, multiple sources familiar with the discussions have said, requesting in addition to arms dealer Viktor Bout the US also include a convicted murderer who was formerly a colonel with the Russian spy agency, Vadim Krasikov.
US officials did not accept the request as a legitimate counteroffer, the sources told CNN, in part because the proposal was sent through an informal backchannel. Krasikov's release would also be complicated because he is in German custody.
"It's a bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer and proposal that the United States has put forward and we urge Russia to take that offer seriously," Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby told CNN, later adding, "We very much want to see Brittney and Paul come home to their families where they belong."
Meantime, Griner's trial carries on, with her legal team expected to continue questioning more witnesses before moving to closing arguments, during which the lawyers will elaborate on why they believe Griner's detention was handled improperly. Closing arguments are expected in coming weeks.
Attorneys make the case for an 'improper' detention
Griner's attorneys have already laid out some arguments claiming the basketball player's detention was not handled correctly after she was stopped February 17 by personnel at the Sheremetyevo International Airport.
Her detention, search and arrest were "improper," Alexander Boykov, one of her lawyers, said last week, noting more details would be revealed during closing arguments.
After she was stopped in the airport, Griner was made to sign documents that she did not fully understand, she testified. At first, she said, she was using Google translate on her phone but was later moved to another room where her phone was taken and she was made to sign more documents.
No lawyer was present, she testified, and her rights were not explained to her. Those rights would include access to an attorney once she was detained and the right to know what she was suspected of. Under Russian law, she should have been informed of her rights within three hours of her arrest.
In her testimony, Griner "explained to the court that she knows and respects Russian laws and never intended to break them," Blagovolina -- a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin & Partners -- said after last week's hearing.
The detained player testified she was aware of Russian laws and had no intention of bringing the cannabis oil into the country, noting she was in a rush and "stress packing."
Griner confirmed she has a doctor's prescription for medical cannabis, Blagovolina said, which she uses to treat knee pain and joint inflammation.
"We continue to insist that, by indiscretion, in a hurry, she packed her suitcase and did not pay attention to the fact that substances allowed for use in the United States ended up in this suitcase and arrived in the Russian Federation," Boykov, of Moscow Legal Center, has said.
Griner's family, supporters and WNBA teammates continue expressing messages of solidarity and hope as they wait for the conclusion of the trial and look forward to the potential of her release.
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