MOSCOW (AP) — UPDATE: The lawyer for WNBA star Brittney Griner says her pre-trial detention in Russia is extended by one month.
Here's the original story:
As WNBA star and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner approaches the three-month mark of her detention in Russia, she has no clear prospect of release.
The Phoenix Mercury All-Star center may as early as Friday face a Moscow court hearing, which is likely to extend her pre-trial detention. It doesn’t help that she was arrested in Moscow, at the lowest point of U.S.-Russian relations in decades.
Here is a look at Griner’s predicament, and the efforts to secure her release.
WHAT IS THIS NEXT LEGAL STEP?
Griner was detained Feb. 17 and a hearing in a Russian court could come as early as Friday, or anytime before May 19 when her detention period is scheduled to end. The court will likely extend her pre-trial detention. No trial date has been set.
May 19 is the day Griner’s detention period is scheduled to end, not a court or trial date. Courts in Russia routinely extend pre-trial detention, and suspects can spend years in jail awaiting trial.
The Biden administration says Griner, 31, is being wrongfully detained. The WNBA and U.S. officials have worked toward her release, without visible progress.
Griner was detained at the Moscow airport after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that the Biden administration has determined WNBA star Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia, meaning the United States will more aggressively work to secure her release even as the legal case against her plays out.
“The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner,” the State Department said.
Griner was detained at an airport in February after Russian authorities said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis. Since then, U.S. officials had stopped short of classifying the Phoenix Mercury player as wrongfully detained and said instead their focus was on ensuring that she had access in jail to American consular affairs officials.
Now, though, U.S. officials have shifted supervision of her case to a State Department section — the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs — that is focused on negotiating for the release of hostages and other Americans classified as being wrongfully detained in other countries. A consular officer did visit in March.
“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” said Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas.
The president of the WNBA players’ union, Nneka Ogwumike, noted in a separate statement that “it has been 75 days that our friend, teammate, sister, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia.”
“It is time for her to come home,” Ogwumike added. “Having learned that the U.S. government has now determined that BG is being wrongfully detained we are hopeful that their efforts will be significant, swift and successful.”
The WNBA released a statement earlier this month, saying: “Today’s news on Brittney Griner is a positive development and a next step to getting her home. The WNBA is in constant communication with the U.S. government on Brittney’s case, working together to get her home safe and as soon as possible.”
It was unclear what prompted the shift in approach to Griner’s case, though President Joe Biden’s administration had been under pressure from members of Congress and others to make her release a priority.
The U.S. last week secured the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed as part of a prisoner swap that also resulted in a convicted Russian drug trafficker being freed from prison in the U.S.
Besides Griner, another American regarded as unjustly detained in Russia is Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan who was arrested in December 2018 while visiting for a friend’s wedding and was later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges his family says are bogus.
ESPN first reported the classification in Griner’s case.
Meanwhile, the WNBA announced Tuesday it would honor Griner with a floor decal and allow the Mercury to pay her without it counting against the team’s cap. The decal will feature Griner’s initials, BG, as well as her No. 42.
All 12 teams will have the decal on their home courts starting with the season opener Friday night. The Mercury open their season at home that night against the Las Vegas Aces.