Brittney Griner pleads guilty to drug charges in Russian court

Two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian court near Moscow, her lawyers confirmed to CNN on Thursday.

Griner, whom the US State Department has classified as wrongfully detained, faces up to 10 years in prison under the charge. Supporters of the Phoenix Mercury player have called for her release over fears she is being used as a political pawn amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Griner's lawyers expect the court to take into account the 31-year-old athlete's guilty plea and hope for leniency, Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina told journalists Thursday.

Samples taken from Griner did not show any traces of drugs, Boykov added. "She was clean, and she was tested," the lawyer said.

It was her decision to plead guilty, Griner's Russian legal team said in a statement, 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."

Her lawyers said they expect the trial to end around the beginning of the August. Griner left the courtroom Thursday without giving any comment to reporters. Her next hearing is set for July 14.

Griner was arrested in February at a Moscow airport after Russian officials say they found cannabis oil in her luggage. The basketball star, who plays in Russia during the WNBA's offseason, has been held since then on drug smuggling charges. Her trial began last week.

Griner told the court Thursday she had not intended to commit a crime, state news agency RIA Novosti reported. Griner had not meant to carry drugs in her luggage, she said through an interpreter, and it was the result of her packing in a hurry, the report said.

The decision to plead guilty was made by Griner alone, a source close to her said. But in recent weeks, Griner, her family, lawyers and experts had discussed this decision extensively. Given the 99% reported conviction rate in Russian criminal cases, Griner was urged to weigh all the factors, including a plea that could ultimately result in a shorter sentence.