Brittney Griner, an American basketball player, pleaded guilty in Moscow to drug charges Thursday. Her lawyers stated that she now faces the possibility of spending up to 10 years prison.
Griner, 31 years old, was taken into custody at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in February after Russian authorities claimed that she had vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
Alexander Boikov (Gringer's lawyer) told reporters that Griner admitted the vape cartridges were hers but that she had brought them to Russia by accident.
Boikov stated that she was packing in a hurry and the item ended up in her bag by chance.
In response to a question regarding why Griner decided to plead guilty, he said Griner was a "responsible individual".
Maria Blagovolina, her lawyer, stated to reporters that "considering her personality, she is a role-model to many people, and to many young people -- she just believes she should take responsibility for her actions."
Her lawyers stated that Griner's positive contributions to Russian and global sport and the "insignificant" amount found in the substance, as well as Griner's contribution, made the defense hopeful that the court will consider Griner’s plea and that there won't be a severe sentence.
Griner's next hearing will be next Thursday.
After President Joe Biden tried to reassure Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner that he was working as hard as possible to secure Griner's release, her latest court appearance is now. Griner sent an emotional letter to President Joe Biden this week, asking him to release Griner.
After the hearing, Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, tweeted that U.S. Embassy officials who were present at the trial could speak with Griner and send a letter from Biden. He said, "We won't relent until Brittney and Paul Whelan, as well as all other wrongfully held Americans, are reunited avec their loved ones."
Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the National Security Council, echoed this sentiment.
She stated that she believed Brittney Griner is being wrongfully held by the Russian Federation under intolerable circumstances. The President directed that the U.S. government continue to work aggressively and pursue every avenue to bring Brittney home to her loved ones, family, friends, or wherever else she may be. We will continue to work for Brittney's freedom, and the release of Paul Whelan as well as other U.S. citizens who are held hostage or wrongfully detained in Russia and elsewhere.
Whelan is a former U.S. Marine and currently serving a 16 year sentence for espionage. David Whelan, Whelan’s twin, stated in a tweet that he hoped "Griner’s guilty plea will hasten her end of the injustices she's currently experiencing." Russia will not allow her to return home until she is convicted and sentenced.
Boikov, Griner’s lawyer, stated that Biden "appreciated” the letter.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d'affairs in Moscow for the U.S Embassy, stated that she was able speak with Griner in courtroom. Griner also said that Griner was eating well. In a statement, Rood stated that she was able to read books.
Griner's arrest occurred just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. This has brought out the fragile relations between Washington, DC and Moscow.
Griner has been accused by the Kremlin of being used as a political pawn, while the Biden administration claims she was "wrongfully detained." Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied Griner was being held hostage.
Griner, a Houston native at 6'9", is a two time Olympic gold medalist. She also serves as a center for Phoenix Mercury and played during the WNBA offseason for a Russian basketball club. Her trial began last week.
On Thursday, Griner was handcuffed and brought into the courtroom wearing glasses, a red T shirt and pants and glasses. Griner was joined by three U.S. Embassy representatives and her attorneys later in the courtroom. There were no television cameras allowed and very few journalists allowed in.
Experts in Russian criminal law state that Griner could spend at least five years in prison for the charges. However, her admission of guilt may have been made to reduce the maximum sentence of 10 years.
Her lawyers might also argue that she is entitled to less than the five-year mandatory term, according to William E. Butler, author of "Russian Law and Legal Institutions" and professor at Penn State Dickinson Law.
Butler stated that sentencing is crucial and added that the question will be "if there are grounds to give her less then five."
Griner's lawyers stated that they expected the trial to end in early August, and were hopeful of a lenient sentence.
The defense stated that "considering the nature of her case and the insignificant amount she took, BG's personality, and history of positive contributions made to Russian and global sport, the court will not impose a severe sentence"
Her family, friends, and colleagues have been calling for more from the U.S. since her trial began.
On Wednesday, her team held a rally for her support in Phoenix while the Rev. Al Sharpton encouraged Biden and Blinken to contact Griner in Russia on Tuesday with a group faith leaders.
According to the White House, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called Cherelle Griner Wednesday to assure her that they are working together to free Griner. According to White House readouts, he also gave Griner a draft copy of the letter he was writing.
After Griner had written to Biden this week, expressing her fear that she would be held in Russian prison forever and imploring him for all he could to bring her home, it came.
The State Department classified Griner as "wrongfully held" in May and gave oversight to Griner's case to the State Department's presidential envoy for hostage issues. U.S. officials claim that they are working behind-the scenes to release Griner.
Washington has yet to comment on possible prisoner swaps. However, there was speculation in Russian state media that Griner could be traded for Viktor Bout (convicted Russian arms dealer), who is currently serving a 25 year sentence in U.S. prison. NBC News couldn't confirm these reports.
According to state news agency Tass, Russia's foreign ministry stated Thursday that the "publicity" and "hype" surrounding Americans held in Russia hinders interaction between Moscow and Washington on prisoner swaps.
Alexey Zaitsev, deputy foreign ministry spokesperson, said Wednesday that Griner was being held for "a serious offense, proven by indisputable proof." However, he stated that Griner was allowed to appeal the decision and ask for clemency. Zaitsev stated that a prisoner exchange would be possible, but the court must first reach a verdict, which could take up to a month.