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Why Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian court

The strategic move could get two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner back to the U.S.

HOUSTON — WNBA player and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner plead guilty to drug charges in a Russian court on Thursday. 

The former Baylor star, who is classified as "wrongfully detained" by the U.S. Department of State, was arrested in a Moscow airport in February after officials found less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

"I'd like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent," Griner told the judge. "I didn't want to break the law."

On Wednesday, Brittney's wife, Cherelle Griner, released a statement following a conversation with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, saying "I am grateful to both of them for the time they spent with me and for the commitment they expressed to getting BG home."

According to the Associated Press, Russian news media have speculated Griner could be part of a prisoner swap including Russian weapons trader Viktor Bout – a man nicknamed "the Merchant of Death." Bout is currently serving a 25-year sentence for conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.

Sources close to the case told ESPN that Thursday's plea was a strategic move, knowing Russia would require an admission of guilt before moving forward with the prisoner swap.

The swap could also include Paul Whelan, a Marine and former security director who began serving a 16-year sentence in Russia in 2018 due to an espionage conviction.

When asked about the possibility of a prisoner swap, Russian diplomat Sergei Ryabkov said that, until Griner's trial ends, "there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about any further steps."

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