Brittney Griner stands by the faith as the Russian court sets the date for the next hearing in the drug smuggling trial

The trial of the American basketball star Brittney Griner began Friday in a Moscow courtroom. The 31-year-old WNBA star faces up to 10 years in prison for drug smuggling.

Griner arrived at the Khimki City Court in a Moscow suburb in handcuffs and wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, accompanied by her legal team. The judge heard testimony during a three-hour session before announcing the trial would resume on July 7.

Griner, who plays for a Russian basketball team outside of the WNBA season, was arrested at Moscow International Airport in February, just days before Russia launched its invasion of Ukrainewhich is throwing relations with the United States into a tailspin.

WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives for a hearing at the Khimki Court outside Moscow July 1, 2022.


After a sniffer dog found vape cartridges in her luggage at the airport, authorities later said they contained “a significant amount” of cannabis-derived oil. Recreational and medicinal marijuana is illegal in Russia, and possession carries heavy penalties.

Griner has not made any public statements since her arrest, and her position on whether to accept or deny the allegation remains unclear.

US Executive Secretary Elizabeth Rood attended Friday’s court session and afterwards told reporters that Griner would “keep the faith.” Rood said she spoke to Griner and that the basketball player is “doing as well as can be expected.”

“The Russian Federation wrongly arrested Brittney Griner,” Rood said. “The practice of unlawful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and poses a threat to the safety of all who travel, work and live abroad.”

Rood added that the US government is working “at the highest level” to “get Brittney and all wrongfully detained US citizens home safely.”

Most media outlets were barred from entering the courtroom on Friday, which the court said was at Griner’s request, according to media outlet Mediazona, which reports on justice in Russia.

Russia expert Jeff Hawn told CBS News this week that Russia is effectively holding Griner “hostage.”

“It’s very clear they didn’t have to plead the gravity of the charges,” he told CBS News senior foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata. “They chose to do this to get the US’s attention and threaten it with the worst possible outcome.”

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With relations between Moscow and Washington at an all-time low since the days of the Cold War, Griner’s family and teammates had kept a low profile to avoid drawing public attention to their case, potentially turning them into an even more valuable asset for Russian propaganda close. In May, however, the US State Department declared her unlawfully detained and assigned oversight of her case to the President’s Special Representative for Hostage Affairs.

The Kremlin on Friday dismissed the notion that Griner’s case was politically motivated.

“It cannot be politically motivated,” Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a briefing. “She was in possession of illegal drugs containing narcotics.”

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, said on his radio show this week, Reverend Al Sharpton, that she hasn’t heard her partner’s voice since her incarceration, but said Griner sent letters to her telling her she was “struggling and frightened.”

“I won’t let them break me,” Griner said in the letters, according to Cherelle. “I know they’re trying, but I’ll do my best to just hold on until I get home.”

“I hope it’s quick,” said Cherelle, “because I’m not feeling well.”

Griner’s supporters have called on the Biden administration to allow for a similar prisoner swap as before US Marine Trevor Reed released in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who is serving a 20-year sentence for drug trafficking in April.

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Russian media speculated Moscow may be trying to trade Griner for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The so-called “Merchant of Death” is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the United States for conspiring to kill Americans and supporting a terrorist organization.

Another ex-US Marine remains in detention in Russia: Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges. The US government said it would be used as leverage in possible talks between Moscow and Washington.