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Detained WNBA star Brittney Griner's trial on drug smuggling charges is about to begin in Russia

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Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner with Team USA.AP Photo/Eric Gay
  • Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia for more than four months.

  • The WNBA superstar was arrested for alleged possession of cannabis at a Moscow airport February 17.

  • After several extensions of her detainment, Griner has finally been given a trial date: July 1.

Brittney Griner's drug smuggling trial in Russia will begin on July 1, the Associated Press reported Monday morning.

The long-awaited trial date comes after Russian courts extended the WNBA superstar's pre-trial detainment several times in the more than four months she's been in their custody.

Brittney Griner court appearance in Russia
Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing on Monday, June 27.AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Griner has been detained in Russia since February 17, when she was arrested after customs agents at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport claimed they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist will remain in Russian custody until her trial is completed, the AP reported. If she's found guilty of transportation of drugs — a likely outcome given the country's 99% conviction rate — Griner could face up to 10 years in a Russian prison.

Griner made a rare pre-trial court appearance Monday in a suburb of Moscow, where court officials once again extended her detainment. She was photographed and video taped with a startled expression as she was escorted into the facility in handcuffs.

The scheduling of a trial date for the former Baylor Bears standout comes as a surprise to many closely following the case. Aron Solomon, the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital, previously told Insider he was skeptical that Russia would ever afford Griner a hearing, adding that he thought she would "either be clandestinely found guilty and sent to prison camp or she will be in a prisoner swap."

The Biden administration quietly worked to negotiate her release and safe return to the US in the early days following her arrest, which WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told Insider was part of an internal strategy to "say less and push more privately."

But early in May, the US shifted its approach by officially designating Griner as "wrongfully detained" — a move that sends a "strong signal that the US government does not believe that there is a legitimate case against her," one expert who has navigated several hostage situations previously told Insider.

Brittney Griner.
Griner with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury.AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

The "wrongfully detained" designation also enabled the seven-time All-Star's friends, family, teammates, and supporters to openly campaign for her return to the States. Griner's wife, Cherelle, has made several TV appearances in recent weeks in an effort to draw attention to the case.

Ultimately, President Joe Biden and his administration are understood to be the sole entity capable of earning Griner's freedom. Cherelle Griner publicly lamented the fact that she has not spoken to Biden about her wife's case, adding that she's eager to do so to help bring "my person back."

After a recent extension of her detainment, Griner's agent — Lindsay Kagawa Colas — called on Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris  "to act with urgency and do whatever it takes" to free the American Olympian from Russian captivity.

Brittney Griner.
Griner.REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Solomon previously told Insider that the key to Griner's release likely lies in the US and Russia partaking in "a political detainee exchange" similar to the one that freed fellow American detainee Trevor Reed in April. Russian state media sources have suggested that the superstar could be part of a deal for Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer dubbed the "Merchant of Death."

Griner was first arrested while 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 WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, Griner made a whopping $1 million per season with UMMC Ekaterinburg, sources familiar with the arrangement confirmed to Insider.

Read the original article on Insider