Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty To Drug Charges, Faces Up To Ten Years In Russian Prison

US basketball player Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to a drugs charge in a Russian court but denies she had deliberately broken the law. Griner was at the second hearing of her trial on the narcotics charge that could see her sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, days after she urged US President Joe Biden to secure her release.

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor,” Griner said. “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,” she added. The next court hearing was scheduled for July 14.

Griner’s lawyer Alexander Boykov told reporters they were hoping for the most lenient sentence possible. The two-time Olympic gold medallist was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a substance illegal in Russia, and has been kept in custody since.

The US working to have Griner released ‘as soon as possible’

In a handwritten note, Griner appealed directly to Mr. Biden earlier this week to step up US 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.”

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

US officials and many athletes have called for the release of Griner — or “BG” as she is known to basketball fans — who they say has been wrongfully detained.

Griner’s detention has also prompted concerns that Moscow could use the two-time Olympic gold medallist to negotiate the release of a high-profile Russian citizen in US custody.

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

Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday that it was difficult to exchange prisoners with the United States and suggested Washington stop talking about 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 boost her income during the WNBA off-season, like several other US. players.

The Russian foreign ministry has said Griner could appeal her sentence or apply for clemency once a verdict has been delivered.

‘Honorary’ WNBA All-Star

Ms. Griner was recognized as an “honorary” All-Star, during a pre-game tribute, while players sported warm-ups featuring Ms. Griner’s name and her number, 42, on the back.

Her wife, Cherelle Griner, was also in attendance. Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson is working with the Griner family to facilitate her release. Richardson is also representing Paul Whelan, an American who has been detained in Russia for more than three years.

He is working on Ms. Griner’s case independently.

“We asked the Richardson Center to help and I’m encouraged that he might be going,” Cherelle Griner said in a statement to ABC News on Saturday.

A “Bring BG Home” rally held at the Mercury’s home arena in downtown Phoenix also attracted teammates and supporters, many of them wearing “We are BG” shirts in support of the two-time Olympic gold medallist.