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Russia again pushes back the trial for detained WNBA basketball star and Houston native Brittney Griner

By Ariana Perez-Castells, The Texas Tribune

Russia again pushes back the trial for detained WNBA basketball star and Houston native Brittney Griner” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The trial of Brittney Griner, the WNBA professional basketball player from Houston who has been held in Russia since February, has been pushed back yet again. She was expected to appear in court on Saturday but will now be held in pretrial detention until at least July 2.

Griner, who is a Baylor University graduate and plays for the Phoenix Mercury in Arizona, was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow on Feb. 17. Local officials claimed to have found vape cartridges in her luggage containing hashish oil. If convicted on drug charges, she faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

U.S. State Department officials have said they believe Griner is “wrongfully detained.” Phoenix Mercury players and executives met with officials from the state department on Monday to discuss the case, according to the The New York Times.

“We are on day 116 since BG has been wrongfully detained,” Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said in a press release. “It was great to hear from the State Department that we should continue to amplify that message and that we should continue to press all those who have any influence or power to help bring BG home. She’s our teammate, she’s an American and we want her back home.”

The case has received national attention and concern as Griner, who is Black and gay, finds herself in a country that has engaged in homophobic persecution under President Vladimir Putin’s rule. Griner’s detention has been further complicated by U.S. efforts to support Ukraine in the continued invasion from Russia.

A State Department spokesperson noted that a consular official was able to speak with Griner on May 19 and reported that she “is doing as well as might be expected under conditions that can only be described as exceedingly difficult.”

Another Texas native who was being held in jail by Russia, former Marine Trevor Reed, was released in March in a prisoner exchange. The Russian news agency TASS has hinted that the U.S. and Russia could reach a similar deal and exchange Griner for Russian Arms dealer Victor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. for agreeing to sell arms to a Colombian terrorist group. Asked about the possibility of such an exchange in a press briefing, a U.S. State Department spokesperson declined to comment, saying, “I’m not going to get into — I’m not going to entertain that.”

Three Texas lawmakers, Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston and Colin Allred of Dallas, are some of the officials who have been advocating for the release of the two-time Olympic gold medalist.

“Unfortunately, our work is not done. We can celebrate Trevor’s release … but we’ve still got work to do.” Cornyn said in May during an interview with KTRK-TV in Houston.

Disclosure: Baylor University and The New York Times have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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