As calls for her release grow louder and louder, and more pressure is placed on President Biden to take action, WNBA champion Brittney Griner has made a major decision about her legal proceedings. According to Reuters, Griner pleaded guilty to attempted drug smuggling, charges that could lead to a 10-year sentence.
“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.
“I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare,” she added.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist has been wrongfully detained in Russia since Feb. 17, when she was stopped at a Moscow airport because police say they found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage. During the first day of the trial, prosecutors revealed the alleged amounts to be 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams.
Griner’s guilty plea is not a surprising development, as legal experts have suspected the Phoenix Mercury center might choose to skip a long drawn out, physically taxing trial. In Russia’s criminal justice system, defendants are very rarely acquitted. And any possible prisoner exchange, or deal for the basketball star’s release, would have to include a guilty plea.
The seven-time All-Star’s decision comes on the heels of her wife, Cherelle Griner, finally speaking with President Biden and Vice President Harris. Per the White House, “The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other US nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world. He also read her a draft of the letter the President is sending to Brittney Griner today.”
On Wednesday, ahead of the second day of Brittney’s trial, the Mercury held a rally of support at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Ariz. An understandably emotional Cherelle spoke to the crowd just hours after her call with the president and vice president.
“I assure you that what and how I feel is no longer hurt by the impact of this tragedy. What and how I feel today is a deeper emotion than hurt. I’m frustrated,” Cherelle said. “I’m frustrated that 140 days have passed since my wife has been able to speak to our family and friends. I’m frustrated that my wife is not going to get justice.”
As this story continues to develop, it is unclear what the next steps of Brittney’s case will be, though her lawyer Alexander Boykov told reporters that “they were hoping for the most lenient sentencing possible,” per Reuters. She “could appeal her sentence or apply for clemency once a verdict has been delivered.”