'I might be here forever': What we know as Brittney Griner enters guilty plea in 'mind-numbing' trial

·7 min read

Frustrating. Uncomfortable. Mind-numbing.

Those are the words Russian legal expert Jamison Firestone used to describe the trial of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was detained at an airport outside of Moscow in February for allegedly carrying hashish oil in vape cartridges.

Griner used the second day of the trial to enter a guilty plea.

"I'd like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law," Griner said in English, per Reuters, which was then translated into Russian for the court.

Griner is due back in court next Thursday, Reuters reported. Her guilty plea is unlikely to change much, as her pre-trial detention had been extended last Monday for an additional six months.

Brittney Griner appears in court again

Griner told the judge she needed more time to prepare her testimony. The Associated Press cited Russian media reports in which Griner said she was packing her luggage in haste before arriving at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

On Thursday, Griner entered the courtroom wearing a red "Crenshaw" T-shirt, sports trousers, glasses and her wrists shackled. She also held a photo of her wife, Chere

Spotlight on Brittney Griner case

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed that U.S. Charge d'Affaires Elizabeth Rood attended the proceedings of the trial, which began Friday. Griner, who had not been in court since that day, returned Thursday.

"(Rood) was able to speak to Brittney Griner," Price told reporters Tuesday. "Brittney Griner asked her to convey the message that she is keeping the faith and I think you see that, to a remarkable degree.

"There certainly is a spotlight on this case, owing to who she is, owing to what she has accomplished over the course of her professional career. But I can tell you that every single American who is held hostage, who is wrongfully detained, unjustly detained, that commitment is the same."

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Brittney Griner's legal team explains guilty plea

The decision to plea guilty was Griner's, her legal team said in a statement Thursday. Her lawyers are Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov.

"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," they said.

"Brittney sets an example of being brave. She has decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people."

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris call Brittney Griner's wife

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney, by phone Wednesday.

The White House summarized the call: "The president called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible."

Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 when Russian officials alleged she was carrying vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage while returning to the Russian basketball club she plays for during the offseason. Under the current charges she faces, Griner – a two-time gold medalist for Team USA – could spend 10 years in prison.

Where does trial against Brittney Griner stand?

An airport customs official testified in open court and an unidentified witness was questioned in a closed session, per state news agency RIA-Novosti. Two other witnesses did not show up, according to the Associated Press, which cited Russian state media.

Griner, 31, did not enter a plea. The trial could drag on for months, Firestone told USA TODAY Sports, and is almost certain to end in a conviction. Thursday marked the 140th day in custody for Griner, who was declared "wrongfully detained" by the U.S. in May.

Joe Biden drafting letter to Brittney Griner

On the call, the White House said Biden was able to read a draft of the letter he had planned to write back to Griner.

The White House also kept the spotlight on other Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad and mentioned Paul Whelan, who has been held in Russia since his December 2018 arrest on espionage charges he and the U.S. government say are false .

Brittney Griner writes letter to Joe Biden

With each passing day, pressure from Griner's supporters on the Biden administration to help free her grows.

"If it was LeBron (James), he'd be home, right?" said Vanessa Nygaard, the head coach of the Phoenix Mercury, Griner's WNBA team.

On July 4, Griner's representatives released excerpts of a letter she wrote to Biden.

"Freedom means something completely different to me this year," Griner wrote.

'Terrified I might be here forever'

A WNBA champion, Griner made a passionate plea to Biden in her missive:

"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. “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.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that Biden had read the letter and that it was a "personal" issue to him.

Phoenix Mercury hold rally, shoe drive for Brittney Griner

Awareness of Griner's plight continued this week at home.

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., who sponsored a resolution calling for the immediate release of Griner that passed the House of Representatives last month, co-hosted a rally with the Mercury, which also held a shoe drive in her name.

Cherelle Griner was in attendance and spoke to the crowd.

"This easily could be any one of us," she said.

Mercury teammate Brianna Turner told the crowd, which held "Bring Brittney Home" signs, that she exchanged letters with the seven-time All-Star.

Cherelle Griner speaks out

As of Tuesday, Cherelle Griner had not heard from the White House; she called the initial silence "disheartening." There were conversations with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, per the White House.

Cherelle Griner had previously been dismayed with the State Department for failing to connect her to Griner via phone on June 20, their anniversary.

"It breaks my heart when I hear her say that," Cherelle Griner said of her wife's letter to the president on CBS. "That means she truly is terrified that she may never see us again and I share those same sentiments."

More than 1,100 prominent Black women signed a letter this week urging Biden to "make a deal to get Brittney back home swiftly and safely and to meet with Brittney’s wife Cherelle immediately."

"Let's make sure this administration knows that they have our support to do whatever is necessary and that we are not ever going to be quiet until she's home safely," Cherelle Griner said Wednesday.

Will U.S. try free Brittney Griner by prisoner swap?

In April, the U.S. successfully negotiated the return of former Marine Trevor Reed, who was serving a nine-year sentence in Russia, via prisoner swap.

Supporters have encouraged the government to follow a similar route in returning Griner and Whelan.

Russian state media began attaching the name Viktor Bout to any deals involving Griner, according to the Associated Press. Bout, nicknamed the "Merchant of Death," is a notorious arms dealer who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012 for conspiring to sell weapons to people, including Colombian rebels, who planned to kill Americans.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov warned Thursday that “attempts by the American side to make noise in public ... don’t help the practical settlement of issues.”

Contributing: Joey Garrison, Mike Freeman, Lindsay Schnell; Associated Press

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brittney Griner enters guilty plea in 'mind-numbing' trial. The latest

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