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WNBA’s Griner returns to Russian court after pleading guilty | State and Region

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MOSCOW (AP) — American basketball star Brittney Griner was due to return to a Russian court on Thursday for her trial after pleading guilty last week to drug possession charges.

In Russia, a guilty plea does not automatically end a trial. Griner’s defense could present arguments at the next hearing to mitigate the sentence, or a verdict could be announced. But what would happen Thursday was not immediately clear.

With the US government under pressure at home to do more to secure his freedom, the guilty plea could be an effort to speed up the legal process so any negotiations can move forward. A senior Russian diplomat said no action could be taken by Moscow until the trial was over.

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The Phoenix Mercury center and WNBA star was detained at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow in February while returning to play basketball in Russia. Police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in his luggage. In custody since, Griner, 31, faces charges that could land him a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

In pleading guilty at the previous court hearing on July 7, Griner said she had no intention of committing a crime and acted involuntarily because she packed her bags for Moscow in a hurry.

US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have said they are doing everything they can to secure Griner’s release, along with other Americans the US considers ‘wrongfully detained’ by Russia, including former Marine Paul Whelan.

However, Washington may have little influence over Moscow, due to strong animosity over its military operation in Ukraine.

Russian media have speculated that Griner could be swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed ‘the dealer of death’, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States after being convicted of conspiracy aimed at killing US citizens and aiding a terrorist. organization.

Russia has been agitating for years for Bout’s release. But the vast difference in the severity of their cases could make such a trade unpleasant for Washington. Others have suggested Griner could be swapped with Whelan, who is serving 16 years in Russia on an espionage conviction the United States has described as a setup.

The State Department’s designation of Griner as wrongfully detained puts his case under the supervision of its Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, making him the government’s chief hostage negotiator. The ranking irritated Russia.

Asked about the possibility of Griner being exchanged for a Russian imprisoned in the United States, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, a senior Russian diplomat, noted that until the end of his trial “there is no reason formal or procedural to talk about new measures”. ”

Ryabkov warned that the American criticisms, including the description of Griner as wrongfully detained and the dismissive comments about the Russian justice system, “make it difficult to engage in a detailed discussion of any possible exchange.”

Griner’s detention was authorized until December 20, suggesting the trial could last for months. Griner’s attorneys, however, have said they expect it to end around early August.

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Post expires at 9:30pm on Thursday July 21st, 2022