In a move that could be calculated, WNBA star and Houston native Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian courtroom during the second day of her trial.
The former Nimitz and Baylor star basketball player could face up to 10 years of imprisonment under the charge stemming from her arrest at an airport near Moscow in February. But Griner’s shocking plea and admission that she mistakenly packed the vape cartridges in her luggage are widely believed could set the stage for her early release.
Griner, who is also known as BG, was facing a justice system in Russia that has a 99% conviction rate.
“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.”
The U.S. Department of Justice Department has classified Griner as wrongly detained and has been negotiating with the Russian government for her release along with other American detainees.
Part of the condition for Griner’s release could be that she takes responsibility for her actions and pleads guilty. The 31-year-old two-time Olympic champion is next due in court on July 14.
Her legal team consisting of Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina told reporters Thursday that samples from the basketball star did not indicate she had any drugs in her system when she was tested.
Still, through an interpreter on Thursday, Griner told the court she did not intend to commit a crime, according to reports. Griner, who plays for a Russian women’s basketball team during the WNBA offseason, said he had mistakenly packed the drugs in her luggage while packing in a hurry.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honour,” she said in court Thursday. “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.”
The support Griner has received from the basketball community and her country did not waver after her guilty plea.
“The (Women’s National Basketball Players Association) stands with Brittney Griner,” the organization said in a released 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 U.S. State Department determined Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained for a reason and will continue to negotiate for her release regardless of the legal process. We’ll leave it at that.”
The White House confirmed that Griner’s guilty plea will not play a role in the negotiations for freedom. Earlier this week, President Biden received a handwritten letter from Griner pleading with him to not forget about her and the other American prisoners being held in Russia as political pawns.
Biden then spoke to Griner’s wife on Wednesday, assuring her that he is working on her release “as soon as possible.”
Some information in this report was gathered from wire service reports.