WNBA star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to a drug charge in a Russian court on Thursday but said she did not intentionally break the law.
According to Reuters, Griner told the court, “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”
If Griner is found guilty, she could face up to 10 years in a Russian prison.
Griner also told the court she would like to testify on her behalf, but needed time to prepare her thoughts.
She has been detained in Russia for over four months, and sadly this only seems like the beginning of a long battle for her freedom.
Brittney Griner’s legal battle is a daunting one.
She was arrested and charged in February at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow for allegedly possessing vape cartridges that contained hashish oil.
Now that Griner has pleaded guilty, what’s next for the two-time Olympic gold medallist?
Griner’s next court hearing was scheduled for July 14 but could be subject to change. Her lawyers are hoping for a lenient sentencing, although not likely.
“We, as her defense, explained to her the possible consequences, said one of her lawyers said to the press. “Brittney stressed that she committed the crime out of carelessness, getting ready to board a plane to Russia in a hurry, not intending to break Russian law.”
Some experts believe her guilty plea could be a strategy to get Griner a more lenient sentence.
“If she crossed the border with drugs, she has to serve time.” Jamison Firestone, a Russian legal expert, told USA TODAY. “Admitting guilt to having the drugs, but also saying there was no intent, allows the powers that be to show leniency if they are so inclined.”
He also believes her plea could speed up the process of Griner being used as a ‘bargaining chip’ in a future prisoner exchange with the U.S.
“A political decision will now be made whether to be lenient or use her as a bargaining chip,” Firestone told USA TODAY.
Griner recently penned a letter to President Joe Biden from a Russian jail, expressing her fears about the possibility that she may never be free.
“I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote in the letter.
Biden and Brittney’s wife Cherelle Griner, spoke by phone after the president called “to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” according to the White House statement. The president also read Cherelle Griner the letter he planned to send to Brittney Griner.
The Biden Administration claims that they have been working tirelessly to bring Griner back to the states.
National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told CNN, “President Biden has been clear about the need to see all U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner. The U.S. government continues to work aggressively — using every available means — to bring her home.”