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Brittney Griner's Russian Teammate, GM Appear as Character Witnesses at Trial

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVJuly 14, 2022

Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Two members of the Russian basketball organization Brittney Griner played for appeared as character witnesses at her trial Thursday, according to T.J. Quinn of ESPN.

UMMC Ekaterinburg player Yevgenia Belyakova and general manager Maxim Ryabkov both spoke at the trial and told the judge Griner had been "an exemplary player and citizen" during her time with the club, per Quinn.

Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star, has played six seasons with UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseasons. She's helped the team win four EuroLeague titles during that span.

On Feb. 17, the 31-year-old was arrested at the Moscow airport and has been wrongfully detained for 147 days. She was charged with large-scale transportation of drugs and pleaded guilty last week, telling the judge she inadvertently brought vape cartridges with hashish oil.

Griner faces up to 10 years in prison for the charges, but her lawyers expect the guilty plea will lead to leniency.

"We of course hope for the leniency of the court," her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, told reporters. "Considering all the circumstances of the case, taking into account the personality of our client, we believe that the admission of guilt should certainly be taken into account."

The U.S. State Department has also been working on Griner's release, and it's possible her guilty plea is a prerequisite for the U.S. to get Russia to agree to a prisoner exchange.

Trials still continue beyond a guilty plea in Russia and Friday's proceedings are expected to include the judge directly interrogating Griner. The character witnesses could still help reduce her sentence.

At the very least, the day in court provided an opportunity for Griner to see some familiar faces in person for the first time since her arrest.

"It was an extremely emotional day for Brittney, who was touched by the appearance of the club director, head physician and her teammate, who gave an extremely positive description of our client both personally and professionally," Blagovolina told Reuters.

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