“Griner will testify tomorrow, and after that it’s up to her whether or not she takes questions,” Alexander Boykov, a lawyer for Griner, told CNN on Tuesday. Prosecutors will also have the opportunity to question Griner.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist made a brief appearance in court in Khimki, Moscow region on Tuesday, where her defense team presented evidence.
Griner, 31, pleaded guilty to drug charges earlier this month, but the US State Department says she is wrongfully detained. She faces up to 10 years in prison. Griner’s supporters have called for her release over fears she will be used as a political pawn amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.
During Tuesday’s hearing, which lasted about an hour, a narcologist brought in by Griner’s lawyers said that, based on the WNBA player’s prescription, it’s likely that Griner used the oil of cannabis found in his luggage for medical rather than recreational purposes.
The narcologist, Mikhail Tetyushkin, explained that “medical cannabis is a popular treatment specifically among athletes” in many countries outside of Russia.
Tetyushkin presented information to the court about the use of medical marijuana by athletes, claiming that frequent use of cannabinoids is incompatible with professional sports due to the effect of relaxation and inhibition of reaction times.
He also told the court on Tuesday that there is no global standard for the amount of cannabinoids in medical marijuana.
Griner’s attorney, Maria Blagovolina, told the court that an initial report by the prosecution’s expert witness was “inconsistent” and failed to meet scientific and legal standards.
Blagovolina said the prosecution’s expert witness report did not determine the quantitative tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in the cannabis oil found in Griner’s luggage. THC is the main psychoactive substance in cannabis.
At the end of the hearing, Blagovolina said Tetyushkin “explained that in various countries, including the United States, medical cannabis is a popular treatment, especially among athletes.”
“So with the prescription in place, Brittney may have used it for medical purposes but not recreationally,” Blagovolina added.
Tuesday’s hearing, the fifth to date in Griner’s criminal trial, was attended by U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood.
Speaking to the press outside the court, Rood told reporters that Griner had confirmed she was doing “as well as could be expected under the circumstances.”
The trial is expected to wrap up early next month, Griner’s attorneys said.
Griner detained since February
Basketball star Phoenix Mercury was arrested in February at a Moscow airport with less than a gram of cannabis oil in his luggage. Griner, who plays in Russia during the WNBA offseason, has been detained since then on drug trafficking charges. His trial began in early July.
The defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating circumstance and that the sentence will not be severe.
The decision to plead guilty was made by Griner alone, a source close to her said. But in recent weeks, Griner, his family, lawyers and experts had discussed the decision at length. Given the reported 99% conviction rate in Russian criminal cases, Griner was asked to weigh all the factors, including a plea that could ultimately result in a shorter sentence.
Some have speculated that Griner could be freed and returned to the United States in a prisoner exchange, much like Trevor Reed, an American veteran held in Russia for three years before his release in April.
Yet before any potential prisoner exchange, it was expected that Griner would be convicted and also admit wrongdoing, a senior US official told CNN. Reed had to sign a document declaring him guilty – something he had resisted for most of his detention – just days before he was released, the official said.
‘Please don’t forget me’
Many WNBA members, along with other athletes, coaches and politicians, have called for Griner’s release. Griner wrote a letter to President Joe Biden that was delivered to the White House this month, saying she feared being detained indefinitely in Russia.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget me and the other American inmates. Please do whatever you can to bring us home. “, wrote Griner. “I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore.”
“Brittney has always been a good teammate, so my role here is to support her and be there for her,” team captain Evgeniya Belyakova said after the hearing.
Belyakova, former captain of the Russian national team, added: “We miss her and her energy so much. I was very happy to see her. I hope the process will end soon and well.”
This story has been updated with additional developments and background information.
CNN’s Niamh Kennedy, Abby Phillip, Dakin Andone and Alaa Elassar contributed to this report.