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WNBA Player Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty in Russian Trial

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Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing | Image by Sky News

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WNBA player Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to drug possession and smuggling charges during her trial in Moscow, according to reports by Russian news agencies.

Griner was arrested in February after staff allegedly found two vape cartridges containing cannabis oil at a Moscow airport.

Following several delays, Griner’s trial began on July 1, four and a half months after her arrest. The Texas native, who plays for Russian UMMC Ekaterinburg during the offseason, pleaded guilty to the drug charges on Thursday, July 7.

British media outlet Daily Mail reported that Griner was led into the courtroom handcuffed yet holding a water bottle and a printed photo of her wife, Cherelle Griner.

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner told the court during her trial. Griner spoke English, which was then translated into Russian for the court.

Griner’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, spoke to reporters outside the court, informing them that her client had admitted to the charges against her.

“She drew the court’s attention to the fact that she did what she did inadvertently, without intent. All the details will be presented later.”

Blagovolina added that the defense team is hoping for the court’s leniency.

“Taking into account the circumstances of the case, of who our defendant is, we think that pleading guilty should be taken into account,” Blagovolina told a reporter who asked why the court should grant her client leniency.

Alexander Boykov, also Griner’s lawyer, told reporters that Griner admitted that the drug was hers and that she mistakenly brought it into the country because she was in a hurry as she was packing.

“It was just by accident,” Boykov added. “We are hoping for the softest verdict possible.”

Griner’s guilty plea could be more of a legal strategy than an honest admission of guilt, according to William Pomeranz, the acting director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington and an expert on Russian law.

Pomeranz told ESPN in June that Griner’s trial was only “to uphold the state and confirm the power of the state,” adding that Griner would be better off pleading guilty to the offense.

“Traditionally, the best defense is to admit your guilt and hope you get a lesser sentence,” Pomeranz explained. “There’s not a lot of examples of people raising strong defenses and getting acquitted (in Russia).”

As reported by The Dallas Express, the U.S. State Department has classified Griner as being “wrongfully detained,” which signals officials will more aggressively seek to secure her release.

“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” the State Department said in May. “The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner.”

Following the State Department’s declaration, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov hit back at the “wrongfully detained” claim, warning that attempts by the U.S. government to make “noise in public” would not help the practical settlement of issues.

The State Department has now moved Griner’s case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, according to Daily Mail.

Griner, who told the court on Thursday that she would like to give her testimony later, is scheduled to appear in court on July 14 for her next hearing.

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