The worlds of sports and politics were shocked when eight-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges on the second day of her 2022 trial in a Russian court near Moscow.
The 31-year-old, who played in Russia during the WNBA's offseason to supplement her income, was arrested on Feb. 17, 2022, at an airport in Moscow and was detained for more than 130 days before her trial began.
Brittney, who is known as BG among her fans, was facing up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs. So, why did she plead guilty? Furthermore, what is the current status of her legal battle? Keep reading for everything we know.
Why did Brittney Griner plead guilty?
"I'd like to plead guilty, your honor," Griner said at the second hearing of her trial on a narcotics charge, according to Reuters. "But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law."
In an early July hearing, Russian customs officials said Griner was found with two vape cartridges containing 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in her baggage, per The New York Times. The Phoenix Mercury player has been charged with illegal drug possession and with smuggling a "significant amount."
According to CNN, a prosecutor argued that Griner "intended to import the drugs into Russia's territory and put the prohibited substances into a backpack and a suitcase."
The basketball star told the court through an interpreter that she had not meant to carry drugs in her luggage, and that they were there as a result of her hurried packing.
The U.S. State Department classified Griner as wrongfully detained, and fans of the basketball star called for her release, citing fear that she was being used as a "political pawn amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine," per the news outlet.
ESPN explained that the WNBA All-Star's "guilty plea to charges of drug possession and smuggling was a strategy to help facilitate a prisoner swap that could bring Griner home, and it also was a recognition that there was no way she was going to be acquitted."
Brittney Griner has been freed from Russia as a part of a prisoner exchange.
After nearly a year of mounting pressure from civil organizations, political entities, and the American public, the U.S. government has officiated a prisoner exchange that will see Brittney come home. Per CBS, Brittney was released on Dec. 8, 2022, in a one-for-one prisoner swap. In exchange for her freedom, infamous Russian international arms dealer Viktor Bout was returned to his home nation.
"She's safe. She's on a plane," President Biden said during a White House press conference announcing the news. "She's on her way home, after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances. Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along. This is a day we've worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release."