Updated Jul 7, 2022 - Sports

Brittney Griner pleads guilty to drug charges in Russia

WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 7, 2022.
Brittney Griner arrives at a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow, on July 7. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

WNBA star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty on Thursday in a Russian court to drug charges that carry up to 10 years in prison, Reuters and Russian state media report.

Why it matters: Griner's court appearance comes days after the basketball player wrote in a letter to President Biden that she is "terrified I might be here forever" and as the White House faces mounting public pressure to bring her home.

Driving the news: "I'd like to plead guilty, your honor," Griner said, speaking to the court, per Reuters. "But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law."

  • "I'd like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare," she added.
  • Griner "unintentionally" brought the vape cartridges containing hashish oil to Russia, her attorney Alexander Boykov said after the hearing, adding that she decided to plead guilty because she is a "responsible person."
  • "She's a responsible person and she admitted that it was hers, but she said that it was unintentionally brought to Russia because she was in a hurry as she was packing and it was just by accident," Boykov added.
  • He said that Griner hasn't yet spoken to her wife, Cherelle Griner.

What they're saying: "Brittney sets an example of being brave," Griner's legal team said in a statement obtained by Politico's Max Tani. "She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people."

  • "Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG's personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence," they added.
  • “The WNBPA stands with Brittney Griner,” the WNBA players association said in a statement “With a 99% conviction rate, Russia’s process is its own. You can’t navigate it or even understand it like our own legal system. What we do know is that the US State Department determined that Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained for a reason and will continue negotiating for her release regardless of the legal process.”

The big picture: Griner, who was detained in Russia in February after authorities said she had vape cartridges, was accused of intentionally importing drugs into Russia, according to the Russian state news agency TASS.

  • Griner in the letter to Biden earlier this week urged his administration to help her and other American detainees in Russia.
  • "I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home," Griner wrote.

State of play: Cherelle Griner has put pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring her wife home.

  • Cherelle Griner spoke to Biden in a phone call on Wednesday and told "CBS Mornings" on Tuesday that the U.S. government needs to do more to help Griner.
  • Moscow's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that it was difficult to conduct prisoner swaps with the U.S., adding that the publicity surrounding the case was not helping the situation, per Reuters.
  • Griner's detention in a Russian jail was repeatedly extended while she awaited trial.

What's next: Griner's legal team expect her trial to conclude around the beginning of August.

Go deeper... "I'm terrified I might be here forever": Brittney Griner in letter to Biden

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