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Brittney Griner in Russian court for first time since proposed prisoner swap was revealed

U.S. offers deal for Brittney Griner release
U.S. proposes deal to Russia for Brittney Griner's release 03:18

WNBA star Brittney Griner made her first court appearance Tuesday since the Biden administration revealed it was prepared to engage in a prisoner swap to free Griner and another U.S. citizen in Russian custody, Paul Whelan.

Griner was detained in February in a Moscow airport and later charged with drug smuggling. If convicted, she faces up to ten years in prison.

In the hearing Tuesday, Griner's defense team continued to argue that a state-appointed forensic expert made technical and procedural errors when examining the cannabis-infused vape cartridges found in her luggage when she arrived in Russia.

"The examination [of the cartridges] does not comply with the legislation regarding the completeness of the study and does not comply with the norms of the [Russian Criminal] Code," testified another forensic expert, Dmitry Gladyshev, who was called to the stand by Griner's lawyers.

Court hearing of U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner
WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, is escorted before a court hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, on August 2, 2022. POOL / REUTERS

Earlier in the trial, Griner pleaded guilty to carrying cartridges in her bag but maintained that she had packed them by accident and did not intend to violate the Russian law, under which cannabis is prohibited for both medical and recreational purposes.

Last week, the Biden administration offered to exchange infamous arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and Whelan, who was accused of espionage and handed a 16-year sentence in Russia. Bout is serving a 25-year sentence in an Illinois prison.

So far, Russia has had a measured response, saying there have been some bilateral contacts on the matter but that no decision has been reached.

CNN previously reported that Moscow had requested the U.S. to do a two-for-two swap and add a former colonel from Russia's domestic spy agency to the exchange. The colonel, Viktor Krasikov, was convicted in Germany last year of murdering a former Chechen fighter in a Berlin park.

"We still believe that any exchanges of information on this topic should be discrete," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday in a press briefing. "Megaphone diplomacy and public exchange of positions won't lead to a result."

Griner's lawyers said after the hearing that they were not involved in the talks and could not comment on the matter. 

Deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, who was present in the courtroom, said the U.S. will continue to do "everything" it can to bring American citizens home.

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