American Athlete Pleads Guilty in Russian Court

WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty Thursday in a Russian courtroom to a drug charge. She told the court, however, she had no intention to break the law.

Her Russian lawyers told reporters that the crime was committed due to “carelessness” as she rushed to board a plane to the country.

Griner was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport on Feb. 17 after customs said they found vape cartridges with marijuana oil in her bags. She was charged with “large-scale transportation of drugs.”

The two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time WNBA All-Star faces up to ten years in prison. It was her second hearing, and Griner told the judge she wanted to have “time to prepare” to give her testimony later. The next hearing is scheduled for July 14.

Experts say her guilty plea was the best option she could choose. Russian courts typically do not look favorably on defendants who aggressively seek acquittal. It is believed the best hope is for a prisoner exchange, though Russian authorities said nothing is in the works during the trial.

Griner sent a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden which he received on Independence Day. She told him that she was “terrified” and asked that he not “forget about me and the other detainees.”

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner Wednesday to offer reassurances that the White House is working for her release. The day before, Cherelle described it as “disheartening” that she had not heard from the administration.

In another development, the sister of ex-Marine Paul Whelan, who has been held in Russia since 2018, spoke to CNN after the call. Elizabeth Whelan said her family does not “begrudge the Griner family” for the attention.

However, she said there are over 55 families who have relatives detained in Russia who need “some degree of attention.” Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage.

The U.S. State Department classified Griner as “wrongfully detained.” Critics charge that Tom Brady or LeBron James would already be home, though with the Ukraine war raging on, that may be a stretch.