Basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian courtroom on Thursday, but not before she was handed a note from President Joe Biden.
With the hope that a guilty plea might be her best shot at a lenient sentence in what experts fear is a sham trial, the WBNA player admitted to taking hashish oil into Russia by accident because she had been in a hurry when she packed.
“Brittney 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,” read a statement from Griner’s Russian legal team, Maria Blagovolina from the firm Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Alexander Boykov from the Moscow Legal Center.
“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,” the lawyers said.
The attorneys said they expected Griner’s trial to conclude around the start of August.
Griner has been detained in Russia for more than four months after authorities said they found small amounts of hash oil in vape pens in her luggage.
“Brittney has admitted to making a mistake, and I hope the Russian authorities recognize that humbling act and respond with compassion,” Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement passed on by Griner’s team.
Sharpton, Britney’s wife Cherelle, and WNBA players will rally on Friday in Chicago to call for her release.
They fear that Griner, who faces a maximum sentence of 10 years, is being used as a bargaining chip by Moscow against Washington amid the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“She is in the fight of her life right now, which is why we’ll be in Chicago to show our support for Brittney and for the Administration and their efforts to bring her home as soon as possible,” Sharpton said. “We must all continue to pray she finds strength through this challenging time.”
Griner’s guilty plea came a day after Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called Cherelle Griner to offer assurances that his administration is working to free the basketball star.
That call came after Cherelle Griner criticized Biden for not meeting with her to discuss the case.
As she arrived in court on Thursday, Brittney Griner was given a note from Biden which he had earlier read to her wife over the phone.
The message was in response to one the basketball player had written to the president on July 4, begging for freedom.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote.