WNBA Star Brittney Griner's Trial on Cannabis Possession Charges Begins in Russia

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJuly 1, 2022

US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 1, 2022. - Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and WNBA champion, was detained at Moscow airport in February on charges of carrying in her luggage vape cartridges with cannabis oil, which could carry a 10-year prison sentence. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

Brittney Griner appeared in a Russian court on Friday for the start of her trial on cannabis possession charges after being arrested and detained since Feb. 17.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Griner's status was not affected by tensions between Russia and the United States following the Russian military's invasion of Ukraine, which began one week after the WNBA superstar was detained.

"The facts are that the famous athlete was detained in possession of prohibited medication containing narcotic substances. In view of what I've said, it can't be politically motivated," Peskov said Friday, per Jim Heintz of the Associated Press.

Griner, a 31-year-old Texas native, was traveling to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Premier League during the WNBA offseason when she was arrested at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.

Texas congressional representative Colin Allred called the trial "illegitimate" in an interview with CNN:

Brianna Keilar @brikeilarcnn

.<a href="https://twitter.com/RepColinAllred?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RepColinAllred</a> says "we are going to do everything we possibly can to get [Brittney Griner] home as soon as possible" <br><br>He adds that "this trial is illegitimate" -- Griner's trial is underway in Russia now. <a href="https://t.co/99qw7g9I6y">pic.twitter.com/99qw7g9I6y</a>

Griner, who's played for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury since 2013, faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years if convicted. Heintz noted less than one percent of criminal cases in Russia end with an acquittal.

In May, the U.S. State Department changed Griner's status to "wrongfully detained," an escalation of its efforts to secure her release amid the legal proceedings.

Cherelle Griner, the basketball standout's wife, told CNN in an interview published Friday she feels the government isn't doing enough to solve the situation:

New Day @NewDay

In an exclusive interview with <a href="https://twitter.com/abbydphillip?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@abbydphillip</a>, Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle says the US is not doing enough to bring Brittney home. <br>“We have to understand this is not a normal trial, this is not a normal situation… otherwise she'd already be home,” says Rep. Colin Allred. <a href="https://t.co/Wdv83KcnUN">pic.twitter.com/Wdv83KcnUN</a>

Several WNBA players, including Breanna Stewart, have made daily pleas for a resolution:

Breanna Stewart @breannastewart

It has been 133 days since our friend, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home. <a href="https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WhiteHouse</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/POTUS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@potus</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/VP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@vp</a> , we are paying attention and we are counting on you. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreBG?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreBG</a>

The Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, one of the most well-known athletes in the world, also joined the efforts in June:

LeBron James @KingJames

We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! 🙏🏾 Our voice as athletes is stronger together. <a href="https://twitter.com/uninterrupted?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@uninterrupted</a> 👑 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreBG?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreBG</a> <a href="https://t.co/2GWV3Ff81p">pic.twitter.com/2GWV3Ff81p</a>

On Monday, Griner's detention was extended through at least Dec. 20 by the Russian government pending the outcome of the trial.

She's one of the most decorated players of the generation with eight All-Star selections, two scoring titles and a WNBA championship with the Mercury in 2014. She also won an NCAA title with Baylor in 2012 and two Olympic gold medals with Team USA in 2016 and 2020.