Jul 7, 2022 - News

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner pleads guilty to drug charges in Russia

A guard escorts a woman in handcuffs.
Brittney Griner is taken to her hearing Thursday in Khimki, outside Moscow. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges Thursday in a court near Moscow, her lawyer told The New York Times.

  • She could face up to 10 years in a Russian penal colony.

What she's saying: "I'd like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law," Griner said in English, which was translated into Russian, Reuters reported.

Her attorney told Reuters that Griner "committed the crime out of carelessness, getting ready to board a plane to Russia in a hurry, not intending to break Russian law."

Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 when Russian authorities say they found a vape cartridge with hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow-area airport.

Griner was in Russia playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg, part of the Russian Premier League.

  • Many WNBA stars play overseas during the WNBA offseason, which is from late September to mid-April, to supplement their incomes, NPR reported.

The timing: Griner's arrest came as Russia eyed an attack on Ukraine and the U.S. threatened sanctions.

  • The state department considers Griner wrongfully detained and is attempting — so far unsuccessfully — to negotiate her release.

Her wife, Cherelle Griner, told Good Morning America in May that she keeps hearing that Griner is a "political pawn" and has implored President Biden to do whatever is needed to bring her home.

  • "If they're holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it."

Earlier this week, Griner sent a letter to Biden saying, "I'm terrified I might be here forever."

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke Wednesday with Cherelle "to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible," according to the White House.

Hours before Griner's guilty plea, a top Russian diplomat chastised the Biden administration for trying to "foment hype" around the case.

What's next: The diplomat indicated Moscow would negotiate her fate, but only after the court reached a verdict on the drug charges, according to The New York Times.

  • Griner still faces a formal conviction and sentencing proceedings. Her next court date is scheduled for Thursday.

Meanwhile: Griner's fellow WNBA players are communicating with her and keeping the public spotlight on her detainment.

  • Griner's received more than a hundred emails from WNBA players and has been able to respond to some of them, AP reports.
  • A change.org petition started by the WNBA Players Association urging the White House to secure Griner's release has collected more than 300,000 signatures.

The Phoenix Mercury hosted a "Bring BG Home" rally Wednesday night at Footprint Center to push for her release, AZcentral reported.

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