Brittney Griner testified that she had to use Google Translate to understand documents she says Russian officials forced her to sign
- Brittney Griner testified in Russian court that she couldn't read documents she was forced to sign.
- The WNBA star used Google Translate to decipher the text, but still didn't understand everything.
Brittney Griner testified in a Russian court on Wednesday that she was forced to sign documents that she did not understand when she was first detained in Russia.
The WNBA superstar was stopped at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17 after Russian customs agents allege they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. Without legal representation present, the officials presented the 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury star with documents written in Russian, then urged her to sign the papers without translating their content.
Previously released clips of Griner's interaction at the airport on that day show Russian agents pointing to the documents in question:
Speaking from the defendant's cage in the Khimki, Russia, courtroom located just outside of Moscow, Griner also claimed that the Russian officials failed to read her her rights prior to presenting her with the documents.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist explained that she resorted to using Google Translate to help make sense of some of the documents, but she still barely understood what they said, CNN reported. When her phone was eventually taken away, she was forced to sign even more documents she didn't understand.
"At that point it felt like I was being held against my will," Griner said in court Wednesday, per NBC News. "I asked again what's going on and when can I see my lawyer. I was then told I have to be interrogated."
Upon cross-examination, the prosecution emphasized that Griner has pleaded guilty to the drug smuggling charges she's facing. And while the 31-year-old acknowledged that "I do understand charges against me [and] I do take responsibility for them being in my bag," she insisted that she had no intention of bringing the vapes with her to Russia.
That testimony is in line with the appeals for leniency Griner's defense team has sought to emphasize throughout the trial. Her lawyers have maintained that the eight-time WNBA All-Star accidentally brought the marijuana products with her to Russia, as she was packing quickly and forgot to remove them from her luggage.
Griner's team has also asserted that the Houston native uses cannabis stateside for medical rather than recreational purposes, pointing to a prescription for medical marijuana she received from an Arizona doctor as evidence.
Given that Russia does not have rule of law, Griner's testimony is unlikely to impact the outcome of her trial. Legal experts and hostage negotiators have repeatedly told Insider Russia is almost certainly conducting a "show trial" in Griner's case.
Courts in the country have a conviction rate that surpasses 99% and offer little chance for an appeal. One source expressed confidence that "the outcome is predetermined" against Griner, regardless of what her lawyers present in court.
Sources have repeatedly told Insider that Griner's best chance of returning stateside anytime soon involves a prisoner exchange with Russia. Several experts explained that an unorthodox two-for-one swap involving another detainee, Paul Whelan, for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout could be the key to Griner's freedom.
The Biden administration has said it is working hard to get both Griner and Whelan home and has been in touch with the Russian government to try to help facilitate their release. The President has written a letter to Griner and, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, has spoken to her wife on the phone.
But even after Biden issued an executive order focused on "bolstering efforts to bring hostages and wrongfully detained United States nationals home," legal experts and hostage negotiation specialists questioned the effort and suggested the move "won't help" Griner.
Former Russian detainee Trevor Reed also told NBC that the White House is "not doing enough" to free the Americans still held captive in Russia.
"I can't say 100% what the White House is or is not doing," Reed told NBC News Now's Hallie Jackson in an exclusive interview that aired Tuesday evening. "But, in my opinion, the White House has the ability to get them out extremely fast and they clearly have chosen not to do that."
In response to Insider's request for comment, National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said "The President receives regular updates about the status of our negotiations to secure Brittney's release, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other US nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world."
"Months ago, he directed his national security team to pursue every avenue to bring Brittney home safely to her family, friends, and loved ones," she added. "The US government continues to work aggressively, pursuing every avenue, to make that happen."
Griner's legal representation estimated that she'll be sentenced sometime in August. She faces up to 10 years in Russian prison.
As Griner awaits her verdict and sentencing half a world away, the 2022 WNBA season has forged on despite the significant void. Earlier this month, when 22 of the league's top players traveled to Chicago for this year's All-Star Game, superstars vowed to use every tool at their disposal to urge the Biden administration to act.
Players wore Griner's name and number on their jerseys during the All-Star Game, repeatedly made mention of her absence, and lobbied the general public to keep the star's name and story alive. Griner's wife also sat courtside during the game and spoke with ESPN on the live broadcast.
"At the end of the day, we are going to do whatever we can to amplify the platform that we have to make sure that everyone is doing what they need to do to make sure that she gets home safely," Las Vegas Aces star A'ja Wilson said. "It's hard. It's hard for all of us. It's not easy."
"Not a day goes by that I'm not thinking about Brittney Griner," she added.
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