On Thursday July 7, Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges she faces in Russia, where she faces up to 10 years in prison for smuggling cartridges containing hash oil into the country.
She admitted to the charges, but told the judge “there was no intent,” her lawyer said Thursday, noting that the Phoenix Mercury and WNBA star had hastily packed his bags before leaving. return to compete in Russia.
Griner has now spent 140 days in a hellish Russian prison, with virtually no contact with the outside world, as she fights her trial. Over the holiday weekend, she begged President Joe Biden for help and admitted she was scared.
For Phoenix Mercury’s teammates, fans, and anyone longing for his safe return, enough was enough after that.
On Wednesday night, as pressure mounted on the government to act on Griner’s case, hundreds of emotional fans gathered at the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix for a rally hosted by the WBNA team: ” Bring BG Home”.
During the event — between several dance numbers and a spoken word act — Griner’s teammates, Phoenix Suns player Torrey Craig, and Griner’s wife, Cherelle, made impassioned pleas for Biden administration: Bring Griner home, whatever it takes.
“I can’t rest because her safety is at stake. I can’t rest until she’s home,” Cherelle Griner told the crowd. The past few months have been “heartbreaking,” she said. She hadn’t been able to speak with his wife, apart from the letters they were exchanging.
“What I feel today is deeper than hurt,” Cherelle Griner said. “I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated that my wife is not getting justice.”
What was already a difficult task has become more difficult.
Griner’s trial began on July 1, following his arrest at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow on February 17. Russian courts have extended his detention four times and ordered Griner to remain in custody for the duration of his criminal trial.
On July 4, Griner wrote a letter to President Biden.
“I’m terrified to be here forever,” she wrote in a snippet shared with media.
Efforts to free Griner progress slowly. The United States Embassy was repeatedly denied access to Griner by Russian officials.
Griner’s detention came just a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, putting pressure on already strained relations between Russia and the United States. In May, the State Department determined that Griner had been wrongfully detained and referred the case to the Office of the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged “all possible assistance” to Americans detained in Russia during a March 6 joint press conference with Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Chisinau, Moldova.
The State Department subsequently issued a “do not travel to Russia” advisory, stating, “There is potential throughout Russia for harassment of foreigners, including through regulations specifically targeting foreigners,” according to its website.
Details of the negotiations have not been made public. Some believe the State Department could use a prisoner exchange to free Griner.
In April, Trevor Reed, a former US Marine detained in Russia for more than two years for assault, was released in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot sentenced to 20 years in prison in the United States for drug trafficking.
Some lawmakers and Griner’s wife said Brittney was being used as a “political pawn.” U.S. Representative Colin Allred of Texas said in an interview with CNN that Brittney was being “held for primarily political purposes.”
Allred joined Arizona Congressman Greg Stanton and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas in presenting the resolution calling for Griner’s immediate release.
Griner also received an outpouring of support from fans. A petition calling for his safe return has surpassed 300,000 signatures.
On Wednesday night, the support from his fans was palpable.
The rally highlighted Griner’s work in the community. She had frequently taken to the streets with the Phoenix Rescue Mission, speaking with homeless people and distributing food. One of Griner’s teammates, Brianna Turner, spoke to Griner’s character as she took the stage: “To know BG is to know such a kind spirit, such a kind person, such a giver – I can go on and on. and again,” Turner said.
Stanton, who introduced the resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives demanding Griner’s immediate release, which passed, also appeared. “It’s important that President Biden and the State Department know that they have the full support of the American people to do whatever it takes to bring Brittney Griner home,” Stanton told the crowd.
One fan who showed up on Wednesday was Nicole Ortiz, who said she grew up watching Phoenix Mercury games. “It’s so sad,” Ortiz said. “She is part of the community. Ortiz said she felt compelled to come forward and support Griner.
Like many fans in the crowd, she carried a sign that read, “We Are BG.”
Kiera Riley contributed to this report.