WNBA star Brittney Griner is expected to make another court appearance Thursday, a week after she pleaded guilty to drug charges at a Russian court near Moscow.
The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist was arrested February 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.
The hearing comes as many in the WNBA, along with other athletes, coaches and politicians, have called for Griner’s release over fears she is being used as a political pawn amid the war in Ukraine. The US State Department has classified Griner as wrongfully detained.
Griner also wrote a letter to President Joe Biden in which she said she fears she will be detained in Russia indefinitely and pleaded for the President not to forget about her or other American detainees.
“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,” Griner wrote. “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.”
It is unclear if the hearing on Thursday will lead to a verdict or if the trial could drag into additional hearings. Griner admitted guilt in the last hearing but told the court that she had not intended to commit a crime, state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
During Thursday’s hearing, the court could force the defense to expand further on her intention, or they could move on to sentencing her, US officials said.
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 last week.
Samples taken from Griner did not show any traces of drugs, Boykov added. “She was clean, and she was tested,” the lawyer said.
Griner’s legal team said it was her decision to plead guilty, 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.