Lawyers for WNBA star Brittney Griner told Russian judges Friday that she was prescribed medical cannabis for “severe chronic pain.”
Griner’s defense team submitted to the Russian court a letter from a US medical center issuing a permit in Arizona in 2020 for the use of medical cannabis for Griner to treat her chronic pain caused by sports injuries.
Also Friday, Griner’s trial was postponed until July 26 after her lawyers said they needed more time to prepare for next steps. Griner, 31, has pleaded guilty to drug charges, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The defense hopes the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and the sentence won’t be severe.
US officials classify her arrest as a wrongful detention and have said they are “actively engaged” in resolving the issue.
“Yesterday was quite an emotional day for her,” attorney Alexander Boykov told reporters outside the court after the hearing ended Friday. “She saw her general manager, her friend and teammate Evgeniya Belyakova for the first time in many months. And now she just wants to take a rest.”
“She’s tired,” attorney Maria Blagovolina added. “It was quite hard for her yesterday. But it went well.”
During Thursday’s hearing, the court heard testimony from Belyakova, the team captain of UMMC Ekaterinburg, the Russian basketball team for which Griner played in the WNBA off-season, as well as the team’s director, Maksim Ryabkov. Both were presented as character witnesses in Griner’s defense.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Moscow, said in a statement that during the past two days of hearings, “what became very clear is the tremendous amount of respect and admiration both in the United States and here in Russia where Ms. Griner has been playing basketball for seven years, not only for her professional achievements, but for her character and integrity.”
Griner was arrested February 17 at a Moscow airport and has been accused by Russian authorities of carrying cannabis oil in her luggage and smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance. During the trial, a prosecutor said Griner was carrying less than a gram of cannabis oil, which is designated as a controlled narcotic in Russia.
She was tested for drugs and was clean, her lawyers said previously.
The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist was detained one week before Russia invaded Ukraine, fueling fears from her family and peers that she is being used as a political pawn due to the escalating diplomatic tension between Russia and the US.
The Phoenix Mercury player said in court last week that she had no intention of carrying the cannabis oil in her luggage, saying through her interpreter that it was a result of her “packing up in a hurry,” state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Friday in court, Blagovolina read the letter from a US medical center saying, “On May 18, 2020, Brittney Griner underwent a clinical examination… The patient complained of acute chronic pain due to multiple ankle injuries, as well as injuries and pain sustained during her sports career. The patient complained of pain in the middle back, lower back, knees, and ankle pain.”
Blagovolina submitted the letter as evidence along with medical test results from 2018, and a medical report by an American doctor from 2020 confirming Griner had “a chronic debilitating disease caused by severe chronic pain.”
According to Blagovolina, the doctor advised Griner to use medical cannabis due to the diagnosed “chronic and debilitating medical condition” that “caused chronic and acute pain.”
In a written statement, Griner’s lawyers on Friday said, “The defense today provided written evidence, including character support material, medical records, and tax returns. Among the medical documents is a doctor’s prescription for the substance that, due to an oversight, Brittney Griner left among her belongings when crossing the border. Among the character support documents are numerous letters of thanks from various organizations in Yekaterinburg, as well as letters from the US Basketball Associations, UMMC Ekaterinburg and the Russian Basketball Federation.”
Griner’s wife, along with politicians, coaches, players and numerous supporters from the WNBA, have loudly called for her release. She was at the forefront of Sunday’s WNBA All-Star game in Chicago, during which Griner was named an honorary All-Star and players donned jerseys featuring her name and number on the back.
“She’s our sister and, at the end of the day, we are going to do whatever we can to amplify the platform that we have to make sure that everyone is doing what they need to do to make sure that she gets home safely,” Las Vegas Aces player A’ja Wilson said after the game. “It’s hard. It’s hard for all of us. It’s not easy. Not a day goes by that I’m not thinking about Brittney Griner.”
Ryabkov told reporters after Thursday’s hearing that he provided testimony to tell the court “what a big role she played in the success of the Ekaterinburg club and Russian women’s basketball in general with her performances in the Euroleague” and “how she raised our national rating.”
After testifying, Belyakova described the detained player to reporters as “a good teammate.”
“We miss her and her energy so much,” she said. “I was very glad to see her. I hope the process ends soon and ends well.”
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, spoke with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris last week after publicly criticizing the administration’s response to her wife’s detention. Cherelle Griner told CNN in June that she wanted the White House to do more to safely return her wife to the US, saying she was not confident the government’s actions were enough.
In a handwritten letter delivered to Biden, Brittney Griner pleaded for the president to keep fighting for the return of her and other American detainees.
“(As) I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote, according to a statement released by the communications company representing the Griner family.
“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year,” she wrote.
It was Griner’s decision to plead guilty, according to her legal team, which said in a statement that she “decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people.”
In addition to Griner, US citizen Paul Whelan is detained in Russia after being arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges which he vehemently denies.
Following the call with Cherelle Griner, the White House released a readout of the conversation emphasizing the President’s efforts to communicate with the families of American detainees.
“The President directed his national security team to remain in regular contact with Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and with other families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible,” the White House said.
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