Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty on Drug Charges in Russia, May Face 10 Years in Prison

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJuly 7, 2022


WNBA player Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian court on Thursday.

She was arrested at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport in February after vape cartridges containing hashish oil were allegedly found in her luggage. She has since been detained for 140 days.

"I'd like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law," Griner said Thursday, per Reuters. "I'd like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare."

Griner could face up to 10 years in prison when sentenced.

ESPN's T.J. Quinn noted the guilty plea could be part of a legal strategy to accelerate the negotiations between Russia and the United States surrounding her release:

T.J. Quinn @TJQuinnESPN

to bring her home in a prisoner swap. There was a recognition that she will have to admit guilt before Russia agrees to a deal to send her home. Pleading now, it was thought, would get that out of the way and possibly help move negotiations forward. /3

The White House released a statement Wednesday saying President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Griner's wife, Cherelle, about the government's efforts to end her Russian detainment:

"President Biden, joined by Vice President Harris, spoke today with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner who is wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances. The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney's release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world. He also read her a draft of the letter the President is sending to Brittney today."

Cherelle spoke at a rally in support of Brittney in Phoenix on Wednesday, saying it's "gut wrenching" to discuss their continued separation, per ESPN's Josh Weinfuss.

"I assure you that what and how I feel is no longer hurt by the impact of this tragedy," she said. "What and how I feel today is a deeper emotion than hurt. I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated that 140 days have passed since my wife has been able to speak to our family and friends. I'm frustrated that my wife is not going to get justice."

Griner, 31, was detained while traveling to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason. She's played for the Russian Premier League club since 2014 while also starring stateside for the Phoenix Mercury.

Her arrest came just one week before the Russian military's invasion of neighboring Ukraine, which caused a deepened rift with the United States and its allies.

The U.S. formally changed Griner's status to "wrongfully detained" in May.

Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Griner was detained for political reasons, according to Jim Heintz of the Associated Press.

"The facts are that the famous athlete was detained in possession of prohibited medication containing narcotic substances," Peskov said. "In view of what I've said, it can't be politically motivated."

Some WNBA players have posted daily messages on social media seeking a resolution to bring Griner home:

Breanna Stewart @breannastewart

It has been 139 days since our friend, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home. <a href="https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WhiteHouse</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/POTUS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@potus</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/VP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@vp</a> , we are paying attention and we are counting on you. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreBG?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreBG</a>

NBA superstar LeBron James also expressed his support for Griner's cause last month:

LeBron James @KingJames

We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! 🙏🏾 Our voice as athletes is stronger together. <a href="https://twitter.com/uninterrupted?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@uninterrupted</a> 👑 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreBG?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreBG</a> <a href="https://t.co/2GWV3Ff81p">pic.twitter.com/2GWV3Ff81p</a>

Griner is one of the most decorated basketball players of the generation. Her accolades include eight All-Star selections, two Defensive Player of the Year Awards, a pair of scoring titles and a WNBA title with the Mercury in 2014. In addition, she was a standout college player, leading Baylor to a national championship in 2012.

The Texas native also helped Team USA capture gold medals in women's basketball at the 2016 and 2021 Summer Olympics.

Griner's next scheduled court date in Russia is July 14.


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