Griner pleads guilty to drug charges in Russia

    T.J. Quinn joined ESPN in November 2007 as an investigative reporter for ESPN’s Enterprise Unit, which is charged with developing long-form, investigative features to be presented across multiple platforms.

Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to bringing hashish oil into Russia on Thursday, telling a judge that she had done so “inadvertently” while asking the court for mercy.

The move is not expected to end her trial in Khimki, Russia, anytime soon. Even with a guilty plea in Russian criminal courts, the judge will continue to read the full case file into the record and it could still go on for weeks or months.

Griner told the court that she packed the cartridges accidentally and did not intend to break Russian law.

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said according to Reuters, speaking English which was then translated into Russian for the court.

Sources said the guilty plea 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.

U.S. officials and Russia experts have described the trial on drug smuggling charges as “theater,” with a guilty verdict seen as a foregone conclusion.

Thursday was the second day of her trial on charges that she tried to bring vape cartridges containing hashish oil into Russia on Feb. 17, where she was detained by customs officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

There is no timetable, but the real resolution to Griner’s case is expected to be a deal that brings one or more Russians currently in U.S. custody back to Russia in exchange for the release of Griner and possibly another American, Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since December 2018.

Russia has sought the release of an arms dealer named Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States for supporting terrorism. But sources have said there are voices in the Biden Administration who have argued against releasing Bout, who is known by his nickname, “the Merchant of Death.”

Experts have said any deal to release Griner would almost certainly require an admission of guilt by the American star, regardless of the facts. By pleading guilty during the trial, a source familiar with the strategy said, Griner gets that out of the way. And while it could complicate public reaction to her case, one source said the thought was to just get her home however possible and deal with the fallout when she returns.

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