Jailed American WNBA star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty on Thursday to drug possession and smuggling during her trial in Moscow, but said she had no intention of committing a crime, her lawyers confirmed to CNN.
Through an interpreter, the reports quoted Griner as saying she had acted unintentionally because she was packing in haste.
Griner was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters with cannabis oil allegedly were found in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs.
Many have called on President Biden to help orchestrate Griner’s return to the U.S. The White House on Wednesday — the day before Griner’s guilty plea — put out a statement about her detainment after the president spoke to the basketball star’s wife, Cherelle Griner.
“The President called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” the White House said in a statement. “He also read her a draft of the letter the President is sending to Brittney Griner today.”
The White House did not disclose the contents of the letter he intends to send to Brittney Griner publicly.
Brittney Griner wrote a letter to the White House on Monday, which was viewed by CNN, asking for help.
“‘Please do all you can to bring us home.’”
— Brittney Griner
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home,” she wrote.
Griner’s supporters have encouraged a prisoner swap like one in April that brought home Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.
Russian news media have speculated that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
Russia has asked for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between Griner’s case — involving alleged possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil — and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to the U.S.
Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted and, unlike in U.S. courts, acquittals can be overturned.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.