An American basketball player entered a plea of guilty to drug charges in a Moscow court on Thursday, according to her attorneys. She now faces the possibility of up to 10 years in prison.
The 6-foot-9-inch star of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, Brittney Griner, 31, has been detained in Russia since February on drug-related charges despite U.S. diplomatic efforts to secure her release. Griner was competing for a Russian team during the off-season when she was allegedly found in possession of illegal vape cartridges.
She’d been playing for a Russian team during the WNBA off-season and was on her way back to the U.S. when, according to the Russian customs service, a drug-sniffing dog prompted a search of her luggage. Authorities said they found cannabis oil in vape cartridges in her luggage when she passed through Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
“There was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” she told a court, “I was in a rush packing and the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bag,” Griner said.
Griner’s case has drawn increasing public attention and involvement from top U.S. officials, who say she has been wrongfully detained.
Her detention had been extended multiple times by the time the trial began last week. With the start of the trial—which is expected to end in a conviction—came another phase of the public campaign.
On Monday, Griner wrote a handwritten letter to Biden from prison, saying she was “terrified I might be here forever” and asking him not to forget about her.
At the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, Griner was one of three prominent Americans held in detention in Russia.
Former U.S. soldier Trevor Reed Marine was freed in April as part of a prisoner swap, despite public pleadings from his family to the Biden administration.
Another former U.S. official, Paul Whelan, is still being held captive in Russia and is currently serving a 16-year sentence for espionage. In a tweet, Whelan’s sister expressed her “crush” over the administration meeting with Griner’s family rather than her own.
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