Brittney Griner will be held in Russia for another month — but one legal expert warns she may never get a trial

·4 min read
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner sits on bench during WNBA Finals
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner during the 2021 WNBA Finals.Rick Scuteri/AP

It has been 85 days since Brittney Griner was first arrested at a Moscow airport.

And now, Russia has extended the WNBA superstar's detention for at least another month.

Griner made a rare appearance in court Friday — six days ahead of her previously scheduled court date — as her legal team learned she'd continue to be held in Russian jail into June. The 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury star wore a red hoodie pulled over her dreadlocks and kept her head down while in front of the cameras, photos show.

Brittney Griner
Griner leaves a courtroom after a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, May 13, 2022.AP

Her lawyer, Alexander Boykov, told the Associated Press that he believes the two-time Olympic gold medalist's case will go to trial soon, given the "relatively short" length of this extension.

The news comes shortly after the US government announced a shift in Griner's classification status, deeming her "wrongfully detained" in Russia. The change signals that the Biden administration will increase efforts to negotiate for Griner's release rather than wait for her case to make its way through the Russian judicial system.

"Regardless of Russian legal proceedings, Brittney Griner has been officially designated as Wrongfully Detained by the U.S. Government and has been held now for 85 days," Griner's agent, Lindsay Colas, said in a statement to Insider. "As such — and out of respect for the sanctity of sport and to support the confidence of all athletes traveling abroad to compete — we expect the White House to use all options to bring her home immediately and safely."

Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner.AP Photo/Eric Gay

One expert — Esquire Digital Chief Legal Analyst Aron Solomon — told Insider he's not convinced that the case will ever go to trial.

"I've been saying from day one that there is no way that the May 19 hearing was going to happen," Solomon said. "It would make no sense for Russia to have international eyes on a hearing where the United States has now claimed that she's being wrongfully detained in Russia.

"My opinion remains that even though this has been pushed back for one month, although they didn't give us the exact date today, it's never going to happen," he added.

Solomon further explained that he expects one of two things to play out as Griner remains in Russian custody. At some point in the future — whether it be in a week, a month, or a year — the US and Russia could partake in "a political detainee exchange," similar to the one that freed fellow American detainee Trevor Reed late last month.

Brittney Griner high fives her Phoenix Mercury teammates.
Griner high fives her Phoenix Mercury teammates.AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

The second possibility, Solomon says, "is that we will simply learn that she has been tried and sentenced on the Russian law."

He warns that Griner — who faces up to 10 years in prison based on her charges — almost certainly "will not be afforded a fair and equitable legal process," as Russia is not known to abide by the rule of law. Griner could even wind up serving her sentence in "a Russian labor camp," like American detainee Paul Whelan.

"Ultimately what we're seeing from today's news is further evidence that Brittney Griner is simply a pawn in a political game — a political prisoner waiting for diplomats from both sides of the former Cold War to find a fair exchange," Solomon said.

Brittney Griner.
Griner with Team USA.AP Photo/Eric Gay

Griner was traveling to Russia to compete for European powerhouse club UMMC Ekaterinburg, as she's done every winter since 2014. Like roughly half of her fellow WNBA players, Griner heads overseas to supplement her relatively modest WNBA salary.

While she earns a league-maximum $227,900 annual base salary from the Mercury, Griner made a whopping $1 million per season with UMMC Ekaterinburg, according to The Arizona Republic's Jeff Metcalfe.

Griner's arrest and subsequent detention has rocked the entire WNBA community. But nowhere has her absence been more pronounced than in Phoenix, where the Texas native has made as much of an impact on the people as she's had on the court.

Brittney Griner.
Griner (left) looks to get past WNBA star Candace Parker.AP Photo/Ralph Freso

"That's my sister," Mercury teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith said. "I love her. It's toughest for people like me. Not toughest — it's toughest on her family — but I love her."

"I think about her every day, and I can't wait until she gets back here with us."

A WNBA spokesperson told Insider that the result of Friday's court date "was not unexpected" and that the league "continues to work with the US government to get BG home safely and as soon as possible."

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