Brittney Griner took the stand in a Russian court Wednesday to testify in her own defense in her marijuana possession trial, which could land the WNBA star in prison for up to 10 years.
Speaking through a Russian translator in Khimki District Court outside Moscow, the 31-year-old said that she had been aware of the US State Department’s advisories warning Americans not to travel to Russia, but she said she “could not let her team down.”
Griner, who has played for Russia’s top women’s basketball team during the WNBA’s offseason, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Feb. 17 with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
Griner testified that her rights were not read to her when she was detained, and that initially she was not provided with the services of an interpreter, forcing her to rely on her own phone to translate documents related to her arrest.
Griner said that even when a translator was later brought in, she struggled to understand what was happening, and that she was instructed to sign some papers without an explanation.
On Wednesday, Griner was escorted into a courtroom by police, bending down to avoid banging her head against the doorway.
Wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt from her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, Griner held up personal photographs and shook her lawyers’ hands through the bars of the defendant’s cage before taking a seat.
Griner’s defense has argued that she was prescribed medical cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of a chronic injury, a treatment not uncommon among elite athletes in countries where the substance is allowed. It is, however, illegal in Russia.
Griner, a two-time Olympic champion, pleaded guilty but denied she intended to break Russian law.
US officials and prominent athletes say Griner has been wrongly detained and have called for her immediate release, saying she is being used as a political pawn to secure the release of a Russian detained in the United States.
With Post wires