Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty to Drug Charges in Russian Court
Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in prison after a Russian court convicted the WNBA star on drug charges, stemming from her February arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.
On Aug. 4, the court found Griner guilty of drug possession and smuggling and also found that she committed the crime deliberately. In addition to the nine-year sentencing, she received a 1 million ruble fine ($16,000) for conscious drug smuggling and possession.
The decision was announced shortly after closing arguments, during which Russian prosecutors asked for Griner to get nine and a half years in prison on the cannabis possession charges.
In February, Brittney was arrested in Moscow after local authorities said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her belongings.
Since the Phoenix Mercury star was arrested, her wife, Cherelle Griner, has been tirelessly supporting her through the ordeal, sharing that she has been in communication with U.S. officials to try to get her spouse freed.
On July 4, Brittney penned a letter to President Joe Biden, writing that she is “terrified I might be here forever.”
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” she wrote in the letter, which was obtained by E! News. “Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
In response, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris said they spoke to Cherelle over the phone on July 6 after receiving the letter. They reassured her “that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” according to a statement obtained by NBC News.
The following day, Brittney pleaded guilty to the drug charges during her trial hearing. According to Reuters, who had a reporter present for the hearing, the basketball star said, “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”
Per Reuters, she reportedly added, “I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare.”
Following the athlete’s plea, her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, told NBC News in a statement, “We expect leniency of the court, taking into account all the circumstances of the case and taking into account the personality of our client.”
President Biden previously offered Russia a deal to exchange convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout—who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S.—for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, multiple sources told CNN.
“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” an anonymous senior administration official told CNN. “We communicated that a number of weeks ago, in June.”
The official explained that the trade would only be successful if Russia was “responsive to it,” adding, “At the same time that does not leave us passive, as we continue to communicate the offer at very senior levels.”
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