WNBA star Brittney Griner entered a guilty plea to drug possession and smuggling charges in a Russian court on Thursday, but denied she had intentionally broken the law. Her lawyers are hopeful that she will now receive “no severe sentence.” Also, President Joe Biden spoke to Cherelle Griner – Brittney’s wife – to assure her he’s doing whatever he can to get her home. The latest inside…
On the second day of her trial in a Russian court, WNBA star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to carrying cannabis oil in her luggage, but she reportedly said she did not intentionally break the law.
On February 17th, the two-time Olympic gold medalist was detained after Moscow-area airport authorities reportedly found cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage. Unfortunately, she was arrested just a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, which has caused rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia. Brittney was traveling to Russia to play in the league overseas during the WNBA’s offseason.
During her closely watched trial in Russia, the Phoenix Mercury center addressed the court through an interpreter, telling the court she had no intention of committing a crime and that she acted unintentionally because she had packed for Moscow in a hurry.
”I’d like to plead guilty, your honor,” she said. “But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”
The trial was then adjourned until July 14th. She faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
BG’s lawyers told reporters they are hopeful she’ll get a lenient sentence, taking into account taking into account "the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence."
”We, as her defense, explained to her the possible consequences. 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," said BG’s attorney, Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm.
BG’s legal team also spoke to TMZ, saying, "[The guilty plea] was her decision informed by discussion with her legal defense team in Russia. Brittney sets an example of being brave. She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people."
”We certainly hope this circumstance, in combination with the defense evidence, will be taken into account when passing the sentence, and it will be mild."
A senior Russian diplomat said that no action can be taken by Moscow on BG’s case until the trial was over. The 31-year-old’s guilty plea could be an effort to expedite the court proceedings, so she learn her fate.
BG’s legal team expects the trial to wrap up in August.
The White House said BG’s guilty plea would have no impact on U.S. negotiations to bring her home.
On Monday (July 4th), BG sent a handwritten letter to the White House, asking President Joe Biden to help her get her freedom back. Excerpts from the letter were released via her reps:
”As 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."
”On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year."
”I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. 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."
On Tuesday (July 5th), White House officials confirmed Biden read BG’s letter.
”We are going to use every tool we possibly can to make that happen," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. "This is very personal to him."
On Wednesday (July 6th), POTUS Biden and Madam Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with BG’s wife, Cherelle Griner, following an interview she did on “CBS Mornings” where she talked about how disheartening it was that hadn’t heard from the President.
Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle says it is “very disheartening” that she still has not heard back from the White House — after Brittney penned a handwritten letter to Pres. Biden from a Russian prison pleading for help. pic.twitter.com/MTyQqCJIBj
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) July 5, 2022
Below are details about President Biden’s phone call with Cherelle:
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.
The President offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home. Today’s call follows calls that National Security Advisor Sullivan and Secretary of State Blinken have had with Cherelle in recent weeks and this past weekend. The President directed his national security team to remain in regular contact with Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and with other families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible.
Since BG’s arrest, Cherelle had been vocal about how the U.S. government was not doing enough to get her back home.
After their phone call, Cherelle took to Instagram to share she was “grateful” to hear from the President and Vice President:
View this post on Instagram
”This morning I received a call from President Biden and Vice President Harris,” she wrote. “I am grateful to the both of them for the time they spent with me and for the commitment they expressed to getting BG home.
“While I will remain concerned and outspoken until she is back home, I am hopeful in knowing that the President read my wife’s letter and took the time to respond. I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten.
”I want to thank everyone who has fought so hard for BG. It means the world to my entire family as well as my wife. Please continue to pray for my family and all the other families of the wrongfully detained, as our pain remains active until our loved ones are brought home. Let’s continue to use our voices to speak the names of all the wrongfully detained Americans and support the Administration as they do what it takes to bring them home today.”
The WNBA Players’ Union said that it stood by BG, noting the 99% conviction rate in Russian courts.
“You can’t navigate it or even understand it like our own legal system,” said WNBAPA Executive Director Terri Jackson. “What we do know is that the U.S. State Department determined that Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained for a reason and we’ll leave it at that.”
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said BG “has the wholehearted and unconditional support of the entire WNBA and NBA family, who eagerly await her safe return, and the league will recognize BG as an honorary starter at this weekend’s WNBA All-Star Game.”
According to the New York Times, Russian authorities have expressed an interest in a prisoner swap that would free notorious international arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence. Due to the discrepancy between the two offenses, it’ll be difficult for the White House to justify.
Prayers up that BG makes it home safely.
Photos: Photo: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Cherelle’s IG