American basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Moscow court on Thursday, her lawyers said, leaving her facing up to ten years in prison as her family and friends stepped up their calls for the US government to do more to free her.
Handcuffed and wearing a red shirt and slacks, the WNBA player said, “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” when it was time for her to speak during her trial. She added, “I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare.” Her statements, said aloud in English, were then translated into Russian for the court.
Russian legal expert Jamison Firestone spoke with USA Today, stating that “[h]er guilty plea is unlikely to change much, as her pre-trial detention had been extended last Monday for an additional six months. The trial could last that long, and there’s a near certainty a predetermined outcome has already been decided at a higher level.”
This hearing is yet another hurdle for the basketball star who has been detained since February 17 and placed in Russian custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after Russian authorities said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage.
Alexander Boikov, Griner’s attorney, spoke to reporters outside the courtroom after the hearing stating that although Griner confessed to owning the vape canisters, she unintentionally brought them with her to Russia. “She was in a hurry as she was packing, and it was just by accident that it ended up in her luggage,” Boikov said citing Griner’s ethos of responsibility for taking ownership and ultimately deciding to plead guilty in court.
Maria Blagovolina, another lawyer for Griner, added, “Considering her personality, that she is a role model to many people, too many young people – she just thinks she should be responsible for her actions.”
In May, the United States “classified [Brittney] as ‘wrongfully detained’…On Wednesday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris phoned Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, who pushed for increased urgency to free Griner during national media appearances.”
This trial is occurring merely days after Griner directly appealed to the Biden administration, pleading for amplified efforts to return her safely home. In a handwritten note, she implored President Biden to help, “I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about the other American detainees and me…Please do all you can to bring us home.”
After the hearing, Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, said that U.S. embassy officials did attend the trial, spoke with Griner, and hand-delivered a letter to her from the President. He tweeted, “We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones.”
Griner’s trial will continue with another hearing next Thursday.