Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star Brittney Griner on Thursday pleaded guilty to drug possession in Russia during the second day of her trial, the Associated Press reports. Following the plea, Griner now faces up to 10 years in prison.
The plea, however, could be an effort by her and her advisors to expedite the court proceedings as Russian officials have indicated that no diplomatic solutions could be taken prior to the end of the trial.
Griner, 31, has been detained since late April, accused of bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis in her luggage while returning to play basketball in the country. Her arrest came as Russia faced international sanctions and became a pariah on the world stage for its invasion of Ukraine. She is considered “wrongfully detained” by U.S. officials and has not had consular access since May.
Speaking through an interpreter during her court appearance on Thursday, Griner told the court she had no intention of committing the crime and the vape cartridges had ended up in her luggage unintentionally as she packed for the trip to Moscow in a hurry, the report says.
Her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, said outside the court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki after the guilty plea, that her client “had committed this act through negligence, unintentionally.”
“We of course hope for the leniency of the court. Considering all the circumstances of the case, taking into account the personality of our client, we believe that the admission of guilt should certainly be taken into account.” — Blagovolina via the AP
In the U.S., Griner plays for the Phoenix Mercury and is a multi-time WNBA all-star but has played in Russia for the last seven years during the winter offseason, earning $1 million per season, which is more than four times her WNBA salary.
In May, Russian agency TASS suggested that Russia may be willing to exchange Griner for Viktor Bout – a Russian who is being held in the U.S. following an arms dealing conviction. Bout, whose life was the basis for the 2005 film “Lord of War,” was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2010.
Last month, American teacher and former U.S. diplomat Marc Fogel was sentenced to 14 years in prison by a Russian court for “large-scale” cannabis smuggling. Fogel was arrested in August 2021 after customs officials found cannabis – believed to be about 17 grams – in his luggage.
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