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Stuck In 'The Defendant's Cage': Brittney Griner's Trial Began Today In Russia

Via Reuters:

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner went on trial in a court on the outskirts of Moscow on Friday to hear drug charges that could see her serve up to 10 years in a Russian jail.

Griner, 31, was formally told at this first hearing that she was charged with intentionally importing narcotics into Russia. She spoke to say she understood the charges. The judge set the next hearing for July 7.

Three employees of the U.S. embassy, including deputy chief of mission Elizabeth Rood, were present in the courtroom. Griner sat in the defendant's cage with a plastic bag of cookies and a bottle of mineral water.

Griner told a Reuters reporter she was finding detention hard because she could not speak Russian, and that she was unable to keep up her fitness because she could do only general exercises such as stretching.

Her lawyers declined to say how she planned to plead.

The gist of it: this fucking sucks. If Griner's case is decided through the courts without major diplomatic intervention, her odds of freedom are dismal. "Less than 1% of all criminal cases in the country end in acquittal", and in Russia an acquittal can be overturned anyway. 

In true Russia fashion it's also pretty clear that the charge against her was mainly a front to use a big-deal American as a political pawn. Already they are hinting at a trade to get their 'merchant of death', arms dealer Viktor Bout, back. 

I'm no foreign affairs scholar, but an exchange of Griner for Bout does not seem likely. 

Another case that shows they're using her for leverage - Back in 2019, Russia freed Audrey Lorber, a 19 year old US student who got caught at an airport there with 19 grams of marijuana. After a month in prison she had to pay a $235 fine before she was released back to the states, but that was it. 

Speculation here - but Griner only had vape cartridges (if she even really had them at all), and though I wasn't able to find exactly how many she had, I wouldn't be surprised to learn it was way less than 19 grams' worth. An average marijuana vape pen only holds .5 to 1 gram… and I highly doubt she had more than a few in the luggage; certainly not 19 grams' worth..  And yet experts are saying she'll likely be convicted and will face a much harsher path than Lorber.

Many other pro athletes, celebs & fans have spoken up for Griner, last week the House passed a bipartisan resolution calling for her release, and the White House has stated it's on President Biden's radar. Still, I think hearing directly from Biden on the matter, or even better a meeting with Brittney's wife Cherelle, would be extremely important even if all it does right now is raise more awareness & morale for Griner & her loved ones. The powerlessness they must feel right now has got to be agony.

The next hearing will be July 7th & I hope by some miracle there's good news. I can't imagine being locked up in a foreign country knowing the facts of your case are arbitrary & you're pretty much just collateral. Still, the all-star/Olympian told a reporter today that he is keeping the faith.