Basketball Star Griner Pleads Guilty To Russian Drug Charge

Phoenix Mercury basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to a drug charge in a Russian court on Thursday but denied she had intentionally broken the law.

Free Brittney GrinerPhoto Credit: Shutterstock

Griner spoke to the court during the second hearing of her trial on a narcotics charge that could result in up to 10 years in prison, just days after she implored U.S. President Joe Biden to negotiate with the Russian government and secure her release.

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honour. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner stated, speaking in English which was then translated into Russian for the court.

“I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare,” she noted.

The plea comes exactly one week before the next scheduled court hearing – July 14.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in Russia, and has been kept in custody since.

She appealed to Biden directly, by way of handwritten note, to request the U.S. escalate efforts to bring her home.

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees…” Griner wrote. “Please do all you can to bring us home.”

According to the White House, Biden spoke to Griner’s wife on Wednesday, telling her he was working to have her released “as soon as possible.”

The case has prompted concerns that Moscow could use it as leverage to negotiate the release of a high-profile Russian citizen in U.S. custody.

U.S. officials and many athletes have called for the release of Griner, who they say has been wrongfully detained.

Russian authorities claim there is no valid basis to consider Griner’s detention illegal and that the case against her is not political in nature despite Moscow’s tattered relations with United States over the Russian military invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday that it has been historically “difficult” to exchange prisoners with the United States and suggested Washington stop discussing the fate of Griner.

Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury in the Women’s National Basketball Association, had played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League to bolster her income during the WNBA off-season, like dozens of other U.S. players.

The Russian foreign ministry said earlier this week that Griner could appeal her sentence or apply for clemency once a verdict has been handed down.

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