US basketball star Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian court.
The 31-year-old was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February while he was on his way to play for a Russian team.
Police said she was carrying vape canisters of cannabis oil.
She said in court today: “I would like to plead guilty, Your Honor. But there was no intention. I didn’t want to break the law.”
Russian news agencies reported on the proceedings, citing Griner as saying that she acted unintentionally because she packed quickly for the trip.
Griner’s attorneys upheld her guilty plea, with one telling reporters they were hoping for as light a sentence as possible.
The Phoenix Mercury star and two-time US Olympic champion faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Griner eats well, can read books and “is fine, given the circumstances,” said US Embassy diplomat Elizabeth Rood, who spoke to her in the courtroom.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that the team had given her a letter from President Biden and would “not back down” until she and other wrongly imprisoned Americans are freed.
The player’s wife has urged US President Joe Biden to secure her release, calling her a “political pawn”.
The White House announced on Wednesday the President had phoned her wife to say that he will do whatever it takes to release Griner.
They spoke after Mr. Biden had read a handwritten letter from Griner in which she said she was worried she would never return home.
“I realize you are involved in so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American prisoners…” she said. “Please do whatever you can to bring us home.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned Thursday that “attempts by the American side to make noise in public … will not help the practical resolution of problems.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously denied that politics and the Ukraine war had anything to do with the sports star’s imprisonment.
A spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry claimed Griner committed a “serious crime” backed by “indisputable evidence.”
‘Merchant of Death’ trade speculation
The case continues to gain traction in the US, which includes prominent activist Rev Al Sharpton urging President Biden to do more.
Griner’s supporters have sponsored a prisoner swap like the one in April, which saw Navy veteran Trevor Reed sent home in exchange for a Russian pilot convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy.
Russian media have speculated that she could be swapped out for arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” and serving 25 years in a US prison.
However, Mr Ryabkov said “there are no formal or procedural reasons to discuss further steps” until the process is complete.
Griner was traveling to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian league to supplement her income during the US off-season.
Her trial began last week but was adjourned after two witnesses failed to appear and there are fears it could take months to complete.
Her next appearance is scheduled for July 14th.