Brittney Griner pleads guilty to drug charges in Russian court
Griner’s lawyers expect the court to take into account the 31-year-old athlete’s guilty plea and hope for leniency, Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina told journalists Thursday.
Samples taken from Griner did not show any traces of drugs, Boykov added. “She was clean, and she was tested,” the lawyer said.
It was her decision to plead guilty, Griner’s Russian legal team said in a statement, adding that she “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,” their statement read.
“Considering 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.”
Her lawyers said they expect the trial to end around the beginning of the August.
Griner left the courtroom Thursday without giving any comment to reporters. Her next hearing is set for July 14.
Griner told the court Thursday she had not intended to commit a crime, state news agency RIA Novosti reported. Griner had not meant to carry drugs in her luggage, she said through an interpreter, and it was the result of her packing in a hurry, the report said.
The decision to plead guilty was made by Griner alone, a source close to her said. But in recent weeks, Griner, her family, lawyers and experts had 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.
There is no indication such a swap is imminent in Griner’s case.
Still, before any potential prisoner swap, it was expected Griner would have to be convicted and also admit fault, a senior US official told CNN. Reed had to sign a document saying he was guilty — something he had resisted for almost the entirety of his detention — just days before he was let out, the official said.
“It is part of the show and the document has no legal force or effect in the US. It is effectively meaningless,” said Reed family spokesperson Jonathan Franks.
Griner appreciates letter from Biden, lawyer says
Griner appreciated Biden’s letter “like every citizen of every country would appreciate a personal letter from the President,” Boykov said.
On Wednesday, the White House announced Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had spoken by phone with Griner’s wife. Cherelle Griner was “grateful” for the call, she said in a statement Wednesday.
“While I will remain concerned and outspoken until (Brittney Griner) is back home, I am hopeful in knowing that the President read my wife’s letter and took the time to respond,” she said. “I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten.”
Meantime, the US government should “continue doing what they are doing and exhaust every measure possible to help bring BG home,” Griner’s Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard told CNN on Thursday following her plea.
While the focus must be on bringing Griner home safely, Nygaard also called out a perceived double standard in the “lack of coverage and the value of women’s sports.”
“The question is, would Tom Brady be home?” the coach said. “But Tom Brady wouldn’t be there, right, because he doesn’t have to go to a foreign country to supplement his income from the WNBA.”
A rally Wednesday for Griner held by the Mercury and the office of US Rep. Greg Stanton of Arizona was “really, really wonderful,” Nygaard said, adding she still was concerned about Griner’s safety in Russia.
“In her letter (to Biden), she said that she was scared,” the coach said. “This is not just a regular American in another country, but this is a person who is represented our country well. She’s also a gay woman. She’s also a black woman in Russia. And we need to pay attention to that and help to bring her home.”
CNN’s Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.