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WNBA star Brittney Griner detained in Russia, appeals to Biden

FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42), Griner has been detained by police after they reported finding vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
Chase Stevens
Associated Press
FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42), Griner has been detained by police after they reported finding vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

Griner is “terrified I might be here forever,” according to excerpts of a handwritten letter to the president provided to media outlets by a family representative.

Brittney Griner, a Houston native who has been detained in Russia since she was arrested more than four months ago, has made a direct appeal for help to President Joe Biden, several media outlets reported Monday.

“Please don’t forget about me and the other American [d]etainees,” Griner wrote, according to excerpts of the letter shared by a family representative. “Please do all you can to bring us home.”

Griner, who played college basketball for Baylor University in Waco, went on to be a seven-time WNBA All-Star center and two-time Olympic gold medalist. Like many WNBA players, Griner plays in Russia during the league’s offseason.

In February, she was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow after arriving from New York. Russian officials claimed she had vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage, a charge that can come with up to 10 years in prison.

Griner’s detention has been extended an additional six months until her trial, which began Friday, concludes. Legal experts have told The New York Times her case likely will end in conviction.

U.S. State Department officials have classified Griner as “wrongfully detained,” and dozens of human and civil rights organizations have called for Biden to negotiate her release.

Monday’s letter represents the first direct plea Griner has made to Biden. Representatives for Griner’s family released excerpts of the handwritten letter to media outlets, including CNN and NBC, and said it was delivered to the White House on Monday.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote.

Cherelle Griner, who has been leading the fight to get her wife released, made an impassioned plea to Biden in a statement to The 19th.

“President Biden, I hope this letter moves you the way it moved me and that you will do whatever you can to bring my wife home quickly and safely,” she said.

Brittney Griner initially was detained just a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, stoking fears among her loved ones and supporters that she was being used as a political pawn.

The New York Times has reported that the Russian government possibly is interested in releasing Griner in exchange for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence in the U.S. for selling weapons to a Colombian terrorist group.

The U.S. State Department has declined to comment on whether a prisoner swap is being considered, The New York Times reports.

Another Texan detained in Russia, former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, returned home in April after the U.S. agreed to release a Russian pilot who was serving a lengthy prison sentence for cocaine trafficking.

In her letter, Griner told Biden that her family usually spends the Fourth of July honoring the service of “those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran.”

“It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day,” she wrote, “because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”