Basketball superstar Brittney Griner, who has been held in Russia on drug charges since February despite U.S. diplomatic efforts to win her release, pleaded guilty Thursday to bringing hashish oil into the country.
Griner, the 6-foot, 9-inch star for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was playing in the off-season for a Russian team when she was allegedly caught with illegal vape cartridges. She told a Russian judge in the city of Khimki it was all a mistake.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor,” said Griner, who wore a bright red T-shirt and trousers as she was brought into the courtroom in handcuffs. “But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”
BREAKING: Russian media: U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner pleads guilty to drug possession, smuggling charges, says she did not intend to break Russian law. https://t.co/MVk3clYFHG pic.twitter.com/0jyci7ovif
— The Associated Press (@AP) July 7, 2022
The plea is not expected to end her trial, which could go on for months, according to ESPN.
Griner has been in custody since February 17, when she was nabbed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.
Elizabeth Rood, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said after the hearing that she spoke to Griner in the courtroom.
“She’s eating well, she’s able to read books and under the circumstances she’s doing well,” Rood said.
The guilty plea sparked speculation it could pave the way for a prisoner swap. Russia wants the release of arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is known as “the Merchant of Death” and is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States, in exchange for Griner.
Any exchange would almost certainly require an admission of guilt from the two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Griner had flown to Russia to finish her season for UMMC Ekaterinburg when she was arrested. The team competes in the Russian Premier League and FIBA Europe’s EuroLeague. WNBA players can make far bigger salaries playing in Europe and Asia during the league’s off-season than they can earn in the United States, where interest in women’s basketball is limited.
On Tuesday, Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner told “CBS Mornings” President Joe Biden has not yet answered her desperate plea for help getting the star out of Russia. The White House insists that Biden is fully engaged on the matter and is working to win her release.