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Brittney Griner is escorted to a court hearing in Khimki, Russia on July 7.
Brittney Griner is escorted to a court hearing in Khimki, Russia on July 7. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

US basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty on the second day of trial on accusations of alleged drug smuggling, Griner’s lawyers confirmed to CNN on Thursday.

While Griner pleaded guilty, she said she had no intent to commit a crime, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported Thursday.

The hearing in the Khimki court of the Moscow region has ended. Griner left the courtroom without giving any comment to the press.

The next hearing is to take place on July 14. Griner faces up to 10 years in prison under the charge.

According to RIA Novosti, Griner told the court through her interpreter that she had no intent to carry luggage with hash oil but this was a result of her “packing up in a hurry.”

“Ms. Griner says she pleads guilty. She had no intent to carry drugs, no intent to commit a crime, as she was packing up [her luggage] in a hurry,” her interpreter said in court, RIA Novosti reported. 

According to a source close to Griner, the decision to plead guilty was made by her alone. But in recent weeks, Griner, her family, lawyers and experts discussed this decision extensively. 

Given the 99% reported conviction rate in Russian criminal cases, Griner was urged to weigh all the factors, including a plea that could ultimately result in a shorter sentence.

The 31-year-old Griner, who has played in Russia during the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) offseason, was arrested Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian authorities claimed she had cannabis oil in her luggage and accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke by phone Wednesday with Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle. Griner wrote in a letter delivered to Biden on Monday that she is afraid that she could be detained in Russia indefinitely.

Brittney and Cherelle Griner have been exchanging letters but have not had a phone call since the basketball star’s arrest. A call was scheduled for the couple’s anniversary late in June but did not happen due to a “mistake” later admitted by the US embassy. 

Asked by reporters outside the court if Griner can contact her wife, Griner’s lawyer Maria Blagovolina said, “This can be done in the form of a call. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Brittney now goes to the court, it is logistically difficult to arrange.”

Because Griner is either traveling to the court from her detention center north of Moscow or she is kept at the detention center in Khimki by the court, Blagovolina added that “we have not yet been able to organize it technically.” 

Griner has been held in custody in Russia since February, her detention was extended for six months pending trial last week.

What US officials are saying: The top diplomat at the US Embassy in Russia shared a letter from Biden to Griner at her trial on Thursday.

US Charge D’Affaires Elizabeth Rood and members of the US Embassy in Moscow’s consular team attended the trial, and Rood shared with Griner the letter from Biden, which the President discussed on the call with Griner’s wife.

“Again, I was able to speak with Ms. Griner in the courtroom. She said that she is eating well. She’s able to read books and under the circumstances, she’s doing well,” Rood said.

“Most important, I was able to share with Ms. Griner a letter from President Biden, and Mr. Griner was able to read that letter,” Rood said. 

Griner appreciated the letter from Biden, Griner’s lawyer Alexander Boykov said Thursday.

“She appreciated it like every citizen of every country would appreciate a personal letter from the President,” Boykov told reporters.

In a tweet following Griner’s guilty plea, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones.”

The charge d’affaires emphasized “the commitment of the United States government at the very highest levels to bring home safely Ms. Griner and all U.S. citizens wrongfully detained, as well as the commitment of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to care for and protect the interests of all U.S. citizens detained or imprisoned in Russia.”

CNN’s Betsy Klein, Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood and Abby Phillip contributed reporting to this post.


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