Brittney Griner 'hoping' to go home, lawyer says

US basketball player appears in Russian court as Washington negotiates possible prisoner exchange

WNBA star and double Olympic gold medallist Brittney Griner is escorted to a hearing, in Khimki outside Moscow. AP
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US basketball star Brittney Griner is hoping to return home from Russia where she is standing trial on charges of drug smuggling, her lawyer said on Tuesday, amid talk of a prisoner exchange with Washington.

Griner, twice an Olympic basketball gold medallist and Women's NBA champion who had played in Russia, was detained in February, only days before Moscow launched its military intervention in Ukraine.

The athlete, 31, was charged with drug smuggling for possessing vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil and is on trial in Khimki, outside Moscow.

Griner appeared in court on Tuesday wearing a khaki T-shirt, looking down as she walked in and was placed in a defendants' cage, an AFP journalist reported.

She remained solemn as two narcotics experts gave evidence at the hearing.

"Of course, she heard the news so she is hoping that sometime she could be coming home, and we hope so too," one of Griner's lawyers, Maria Blagovolina, told reporters.

Ms Blagovolina said Griner's legal team was "not involved in any of the negotiations" on a possible prisoner swap. But she said Griner would be eligible for an exchange after a verdict that "will be very soon".

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a call last week with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Mr Blinken said he had "pressed the Kremlin" to accept a proposal from Washington for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, a US citizen jailed in Russia on espionage charges.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said Russia's response was in "bad faith" and was not being taken seriously by American officials.

Griner was detained when she came to Russia to play club basketball with UMMC Ekaterinburg during the US off-season — a common path for American stars seeking additional income.

At a previous hearing, Griner said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.

Griner has pleaded guilty and faces up to 10 years in prison.

The next hearing will take place on Thursday.

Updated: August 02, 2022, 6:00 PM