WNBA star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty Thursday to controversial drug charges in Russia after she was allegedly caught with cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner told the judge, according to Reuters.
She also asked for “time to prepare” her testimony.
Griner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison when she is sentenced.
While the U.S. State Department has declared her “wrongfully detained” and activists have accused Russia of holding her as a political prisoner, experts have said that a guilty plea would make it easier for the White House to begin negotiations for her freedom, which President Biden has vowed to do.
On Wednesday, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Griner’s wife, Cherelle, by phone after the couple criticized the administration for ignoring her imprisonment.
“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 US nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” the White House said in a statement.
Whelan, a Canadian-born Marine vet, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 while he was in town for a wedding and charged with espionage by Russian intelligence officials. He was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison camp.
In late April, U.S. veteran Trevor Reed, a former Marine, was freed from a Russian prison in a swap for a convicted drug dealer.
A spokesperson also said that Biden had read the handwritten note Griner sent, pleading for his help.
“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,” she wrote, according to a partial copy of the letter released Monday by her representatives.
Griner is due back in court July 14.
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