Brittney Griner makes another court appearance at a hearing in Russia
It is her third appearance in as many weeks
(CNN) — WNBA star Brittney Griner returned to a Russian court Thursday, a week after she pleaded guilty to drug charges in proceedings near Moscow.
Griner, who the US State Department has classified as wrongfully detained, is expected to be questioned and her defense is slated to present statements and request leniency as she faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. It is her third appearance in as many weeks.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US Embassy, is also attending the hearing.
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.
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 Biden 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 Thursday’s hearing 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 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, 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.”
It was Griner’s decision to plead guilty, her legal team said, 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.”
Griner is one of the most decorated players in basketball. In addition to her Olympic gold medals, she has won two world championships, a WNBA championship and an NCAA championship. She has twice been crowned the WNBA’s scoring champ and the league’s defensive player of the year, and was voted onto seven all-star teams before her detention. She was named an honorary all-star in this year’s contest, earlier this month.
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