Brittney Griner Released from Russian Prison: Everything to Know About Her Case

On Thursday, the former WNBA star was released in a one-for-one prisoner swap.

Eight-time WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner has been released after being detained in Russian prisons for nearly 10 months. The basketball player was arrested in February after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

On Aug. 4, the Phoenix Mercury player was sentenced to 9 years in prison and given a fine of 1 million rubles (approximately $16,500) after she was found guilty of drug possession and smuggling by a Russian court. Brittney has had an uphill battle trying to have her criminal case acquitted in a trial that experts said was unlikely to be fair and that Russian authorities are using her as a diplomatic bargaining chip amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The Olympic gold medalist has played in Russia for the last seven winters, earning more than $1 million per season -- more than quadruple her WNBA salary, according to the Associated Press. She last played for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg on Jan. 29, before the league took a two-week break in early February for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments. 

Here's what you need to know about Brittney's status, what's been said about her case, and how the U.S. government approached her detainment amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Feb. 17: Brittney is arrested and detained in Moscow

The 31-year-old, who has played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Premier League during the WNBA offseason for nearly a decade, returned to Russia after the league's two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament. Sheremetyevo International Airport authorities allegedly found four vape cartridges containing hash oil, a concentrated form of cannabis that is illegal in Russia, in her luggage. Russian Federal Customs Service said an airport security dog prompted customs officials to search her possessions.

Brittney was charged with violating Article 229.1 of the Criminal Code of Russia, a law criminalizing illegal drug trafficking and smuggling. A Russian judge ordered Brittney to remain in custody.

March 5: Brittney's detainment is revealed 

Brittney's detention occurred one week before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It wasn't until March 5 that reporting began about the detention of an unnamed American basketball player. Russian Customs Service announced they arrested Brittney for possession and released footage from the airport showing officials conducting a customs search. 

A WNBA spokeswoman told the New York Times that all WNBA players besides Brittney had left Russia and Ukraine. Some had gone as soon as Russia's invasion of Ukraine took place, but by March 5, everyone had returned home.

The Phoenix Mercury team released a statement saying they were "closely monitoring the situation" and that their main priority was the player's "safe return home."

Brittney's wife, Cherelle, also released a statement on Instagram thanking fans for their "prayers and support" and asking for privacy as she worked on "getting my wife home safely."

"I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life," she wrote. "I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely."

March 8: Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speaks out for Brittney

Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee took to Twitter to urge Russian authorities to set Brittney free. 

"Yesterday, I met with the @POTUS of the United States, along with the executive committee of the Congressional Black Caucus. We discussed very important issues dealing with the next steps in police reform, voting rights, and HR 40 The Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals," she wrote.

"But the critical and urgent issue that I was able to raise with the President was the illegal arrest and detaining of Britney Griner and raised the need for her to be immediately released and for her to receive the help of the United States to demand and facilitate that release," she added. "It is clear that Putin chooses to use American citizens as pawns and has detained many other Americans on false charges. He is now waging a vile, evil, immoral, and vicious war of terrorism; and now maybe choosing to use the celebrity status of Griner to threaten the West and threaten the United States."

She continued, "Brittney Griner is a professional athlete at the top of her game who plays professionally in Russia and the United States. Frankly, Putin is a war criminal and should not be holding anyone. Griner should be released now along with other detained Americans. The United States government working with Congress should demand their release, and Putin should be tried as a war criminal! Enough is enough!"

March 17: Brittney's detention is extended through May 19

Brittney appeared in a Moscow court, where her detention was extended for two months. The Khimki regional court in Moscow confirmed to CBS News that it had approved the ongoing investigation and extended the term of Brittney's detention until May 19. It was explained that Brittney will remain in a pre-trial detention center near Moscow until her next court appearance.  

March 23: The State Department gets 'consular access' to Brittney for the first time

A State Department official confirmed that an embassy official was granted access to see Brittney.

"Within the past couple hours, an official from our embassy has been granted consular access to Brittney Griner," State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CNN on March 23. "Our official found Brittney Griner to be in good condition and we will continue to do everything we can to see to it that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal."

Brittney had reportedly been able to communicate with her family through her attorneys.

April 19: Brittney's teammates speak out on her behalf

The Phoenix Mercury spoke out to support Brittney by lobbying the administration and urging support for the WNBA administration. 

"I definitely wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, worrying about BG," first-year Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard told NBC New York. "If people seriously care about keeping our athletes over here and making sure female athletes are paid at a higher rate, then they need to put their dollars behind our league. Support us."

Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, who also has played in Russia, said that the sensitive nature of Brittney's situation --  being played out on a diplomatic stage rather than a basketball court -- has made things even more difficult.

"I spent 10 years there, so I know the way things work," she said. "It's delicate."

April 27: Former Marine Trevor Reed is freed as part of a prisoner exchange with Russia

The Biden administration announced that former Marine Trevor Reed, who had been held in Russia since 2019, was released from custody as part of a prisoner exchange. Reed was jailed in 2020 on assault charges stemming from a drunken night out in Moscow the previous year, although he has maintained his innocence. Russia's Foreign Ministry said he was released after a "lengthy negotiation process" in exchange for Russian national Konstantin Yaroshenko, who has been jailed for more than a decade in the U.S. on drug smuggling charges. 

"The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly," President Joe Biden said in a statement. "His safe return is a testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad."    

ESPN reported that, while there are notable differences between the two cases, Brittney's team was encouraged by Reed's release. Cherelle released a statement saying she was "overflowing with joy" for Reed's family.  

"I do not personally know them, but I know the pain of having your loved one detained in a foreign country," Cherelle wrote. "That level of pain is constant and can only be remedied by a safe return home."

May 3: U.S. determines Brittney is being wrongfully detained

The State Department reclassified Brittney as wrongfully detained, meaning the United States will seek to negotiate her release simultaneously to the legal case playing out.

"Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home," her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said in a statement to ESPN.

Additionally, the WNBA announced that it will feature Brittney's initials and jersey number (No. 42) on the sideline of all WNBA courts this season. The league also granted the Mercury roster a salary cap relief so they can carry a replacement player. Brittney will continue to be paid her full salary ($227,900).


Terri Jackson, the executive director of the WNBA Players Association, told CBS News she hopes Brittney will be home before the season ends and said many of the players have been writing letters to her. 

May 13: Brittney’s detention in Russia is extended to June 13

Brittney's lawyer, Alexander Boikov, told the Associated Press that Brittney's detention had been extended by one month and he believed the relatively short extension of the detention indicated the case would come to trial soon.

"We did not receive any complaints about the detention conditions from our client," Boikov said.

May 25: Cherelle Griner opens up about Brittney's detainment

In conversation with Angela Rye for ESPN, Cherelle explained that she requested a meeting with President Biden, but she has not yet spoken to him.

"If he is the person that can get my person back, I would love to meet him," Cherelle said. "I have requested a meeting with him. I hope he accepts in the near future to meet with me because I want my person back."

"I feel every second that BG is not here," she added. "Most people are counting by the days, but it's not days for me."

Cherelle said that she is in a "position of complete vulnerability right now" and has to trust people she didn't know prior to Brittney's detainment. She shared that while she has not spoken directly to her wife, she has been told that Brittney is "doing OK."

Cherelle also spoke with Good Morning America, saying, "I just keep hearing that he has the power. She's a political pawn. So if they're holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it."

June 6: LeBron James calls for Brittney's safe return from Russia

LeBron James took to social media to speak out on Brittney's behalf. 

"We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!!" he wrote on Twitter. "Our voice as athletes is stronger together."

James and his company, Uninterrupted, encouraged others to learn about Brittney's case, sign a petition, and post about her case on social media to encourage President Biden and Vice President Harris to take more action to bring her back to the U.S. 

"For over 100 days, BG has faced inhumane conditions in a Russian prison and has been denied communications with her family and loved ones," Uninterrupted said in a statement tweeted by James. "As a decorated Olympian and member of an elite global sport community, BG's detention must be resolved out of respect for the sanctity of all sport and for all Americans traveling internationally." 

To honor Brittney, the Boston Celtics wore "We Are BG" shirts at a recent practice

June 13: State Department officials meet with WNBA representatives and members of the Mercury organization to discuss Brittney's status

"We're here to do whatever we can to amplify and keep BG at the forefront, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that's going on in our lives," Taurasi said in a statement shared on the team's Twitter. "We want BG to come home as soon as possible. It's number one on our list."

"We are on day 116 since BG has been wrongfully detained," Nygaard said. "It was great to hear from the State Department that we should continue to amplify that message and that we should continue to press all those who have any influence or power to help bring BG home. She's our teammate, she's an American, and we want her back home."

June 14: Brittney's detention in Russia is extended for a third time

Russia extended Brittney's detention until at least July 2, state news agency Tass reported. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the U.S. learned of the extension through Russian state media. 

"Our position for some time on this has been very clear -- Brittney Griner should not be detained. She should not be detained for a single day longer," Price said. 

June 18: Cherelle says U.S. embassy failed to patch through call from the detained WNBA star

A call that was supposed to occur between Brittney and Cherelle did not happen because of a miscommunication at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Brittney tried to call her wife nearly a dozen times through the American embassy in Russia on the couple's fourth anniversary, but they never connected since the phone line at the embassy was not staffed, Cherelle said.

"I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up," Cherelle told the Associated Press in an interview, recounting how an anniversary she had eagerly anticipated was instead spent in tears. "I'm pretty sure I texted BG's agent and was like: 'I don't want to talk to anybody. It's going to take me a minute to get my emotions together and just tell everybody I'm unavailable right now. Because it just knocked me out. I wasn't well, I'm still not well."

The State Department said that it was aware of the issue and was looking into it. Cherelle said a contact in the U.S. government had apologized to her for the error. She said she's since learned that the one number Brittney had been told to dial typically processes calls from prisoners on Mondays through Fridays but not weekends.

"But mind you," Cherelle said in the interview, "this phone call had been scheduled for almost two weeks -- with a weekend date."

She added, "I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now. If I can't trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife's behalf to come home? Because that's a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call."

The State Department said on June 21 that the call would be rescheduled

June 22: WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert names Brittney an honorary All-Star starter for this year's game

Cathy Engelbert named Brittney, who was selected to seven prior AT&T WNBA All-Star Games, an honorary All-Star and starter on ESPN’s NBA Today.

"During each season of Brittney’s career in which there has been an All-Star Game, she has been selected as an All-Star," said Engelbert in the WNBA’s All-Star team announcement. "It is not difficult to imagine that if BG were here with us this season, she would once again be selected and would, no doubt, show off her incredible talents. So, it is only fitting that she be named as an honorary starter today and we continue to work on her safe return to the U.S."

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams also shared a message the day after the All-Star starters were announced.

"We are on day 126 since Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained. I’ll say that again, 126 days," he said. "Me, my family and my staff, we pray for Brittney a lot. We have to keep her at the forefront."

June 24: U.S. House approves a bipartisan resolution calling for Brittney's release

The U.S. House approved a bipartisan resolution calling for Brittney's release introduced by Arizona Rep. Greg Stanton. The resolution calls on Russia to "immediately release" Brittney, and asks U.S. officials to "raise the case" of her release when communicating with Russia.

The Mercury applauded the resolution, tweeting Saturday that "Stanton and many others are continuing to work with the White House, State Department and Brittney's family to secure her safe return home."

June 27: Brittney appears in Russian court, criminal trial set to start July 1

More than four months after she was arrested at a Moscow airport for cannabis possession, a Russian court set the start date of Brittney's criminal trial for July 1.

The WNBA star was also ordered to remain in custody for the duration of her criminal trial. Fewer than one percent of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be overturned.

When U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked on CNN whether a joint swap of Brittney and Paul Whelan -- a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction -- for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout was being considered, he sidestepped the question.

"As a general proposition ... I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home," he said. But "I can't comment in any detail on what we're doing, except to say this is an absolute priority."

Any swap would apparently require Brittney to first be convicted and sentenced, then apply for a presidential pardon, Maria Yarmush, a lawyer specializing in international civil affairs, told Kremlin-funded TV channel RT.

July 1: The trial for Brittney begins in Russian court

A prosecutor claimed that Brittney smuggled less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

"Being sufficiently aware that the movement of narcotic drugs is not allowed... no later than February 17, 2022, at an unspecified location under unspecified circumstances from an unidentified person [Brittney] bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil, totaling 0.702 grams," the prosecutor said, according to CNN, which cited reporting from TASS.

Brittney did not enter a plea or make any comments on the charges.

July 4: Brittney sends a handwritten letter to President Biden pleading for his help

A handwritten letter from Brittney was delivered to the White House, according to the Griner family, who provided excerpts to reporters. In her letter, the imprisoned WNBA star pleaded with the president not to forget her, and said her already deep appreciation for Independence Day has taken on new meaning this year. 

"I'm terrified I might be here forever," Brittney wrote. "On the 4th of July, our family normally honors 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 because freedom means something completely different to me this year." 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed that President Biden had read Brittney's letter, saying that this issue is "a priority for this president."

"We believe she is wrongfully detained," Jean-Pierre said. "We believe she needs to come home."

July 5: Cherelle tells CBS Mornings she fears she'll 'never' see her wife again

Cherelle, who called her wife the "strongest person" she knows, said she could feel the fear that Brittney was experiencing [through her handwritten letter] during a July 5 interview with CBS Mornings.

"She doesn't say words like that lightly," Cherelle said. "That means she truly is terrified that she may never see us again. And you know, I share those same sentiments."

Numerous NBA and WNBA stars have called for Brittney's release throughout her imprisonment. But those closest to her are pressing forward the best way they can, Cherelle shared. 

"Everything about this is a calculation for me because I have to walk the fine line of harm versus help when it comes to my wife right now," Cherelle said. "So, as much as I want to advocate for her and push for our governments to do everything, I also have to take into account that she's in a position where she could be harmed also, by any and everything I do, and so, it's a thin line to walk."

Cherelle revealed that she was initially told to "stay quiet," but that's simply not an option for her.

"Initially I was told, you know, we are going to try to reserve, we're going to try to handle this behind scenes and let's not raise her value and, you know, stay quiet. You know, I did that and respectfully, we're over 140 days at this point. That does not work," Cherelle said. "So I will not be quiet anymore. I will find that balance of, you know, harm versus help in pushing our government to do everything that's possible because being quiet, they're not moving, they're not doing anything. So my wife is struggling, and we have to help her." 

July 6: President Biden and Vice President Harris speak on the phone with Cherelle 

The White House revealed that President Biden and Vice President Harris spoke with Cherelle on a call two days after Brittney's handwritten letter was delivered to the White House.

Biden sought "to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney's release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world," the White House said. "He also read her a draft of the letter the president is sending to Brittney Griner today."

The White House did not share specifics from the president's letter to Brittney, but said the president offered his support to the Griner family and offered his commitment to making sure they receive all possible help from the administration. National security advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have previously spoken with Cherelle. 

July 7: Brittney pleads guilty, tells court she brought marijuana into country accidentally

Brittney pleaded guilty to drug possession and smuggling charges, telling a Moscow court she brought marijuana into the country by accident.

"I would like to plead guilty on the charges against me, but I had no intention on breaking any Russian law," she said in court. "I was in a rush packing and the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bags."

The hearing saw another witness questioned before Brittney pleaded guilty. The WNBA player is expected to give her testimony at a later date and has requested time to prepare for it. The session adjourned until July 14.

Brittney's plea could bring the verdict in her case closer, which would then allow her defense team and U.S. officials to trigger proceedings to try and secure her release. 

Russian media had speculated that Brittney could be a part of a prisoner swap similar to the one U.S. and Russia arranged in the spring, exchanging former Marine Trevor Reed with pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was jailed years ago on drug smuggling charges.

A high-ranking Russian diplomat signaled that Moscow would be prepared to negotiate Brittney's fate, but only after the court hands its verdict. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov also criticized U.S. attempts "to stir hype" around Brittney's case after the U.S. government classified her as "wrongfully detained" and assigned a "hostage envoy" to work on her case.

"We have a long-established form of discussing these issues, and the attempts of the American side to stir hype and make noise in the public sphere are clear to us, they do not help the practical solution of the issue," Ryabkov said, according to TASS news agency.

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken tweeted that the Biden administration still considers Brittney to be wrongfully detained.

"[U.S.] officials again attended Brittney Griner's trial today and delivered to her a letter from President Biden," Blinken tweeted. "We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones."

July 10: WNBA players honor Brittney at All-Star Game

A'ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart and the rest of the WNBA All-Stars lined up along the sideline after halftime, the No. 42 and the name Griner on the back of all of their jerseys.

Brittney was everywhere that Sunday, everywhere except where the league's best players felt she should be: playing in the marquee WNBA All-Star Game, in which Team Wilson pulled away from Team Stewart for a 134-112 victory.

Just before the second half, when the players wore Brittney's last name and No. 42 on the back of their jerseys, Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot hugged Brittney's wife, Cherelle.

"We're thinking of Brittney Griner at this time," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. "She remains a huge priority for us, continues to have our full support. Fully focused on getting her home safely and as soon as possible."

July 12: LeBron James Says he would question returning to the U.S. if he were in Brittney's situation

In a trailer for an episode of The Shop, the NBA superstar spoke about Brittney's detainment with co-host Maverick Carter, the show's creator, Paul Rivera, and the episode's guests, actor Daniel Kaluuya and Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford. 

In the clip, James wondered how Brittney feels after being in prison for over 110 days, noting that he could understand her reconsidering returning to the United States in light of the country’s efforts to bring her back home. "Now, how can she feel like America has her back?" he asked his guests. "I would be feeling like, 'Do I even want to go back to America?'"

In tweets following the release of The Shop trailer, the 37-year-old took to social media to clarify his comments in apparent response to criticism on his feelings toward the U.S. government. 

James stressed that his words weren't "knocking our beautiful country."

"I was simply saying how she's probably feeling emotionally along with so many other emotions, thoughts, etc inside that cage she's been in for over 100+ days," he explained. "Long story short #BringHerHome."

July 14: Character witnesses testify on Brittney's behalf during trial

UMMC Ekaterinburg general manager Maxim Ryabkov and team captain Evgeniya Belyakova appeared as character witnesses during Brittney's trial, according to ESPN

"Our task today was to tell the court about her characteristics as an athlete, as a person -- tell about how she played a big role in the success of the Ekaterinburg club and Russian women's basketball as a whole," Ryabkov told reporters. "Today is the first day when we have seen our basketball player since February. Thank God, she feels well, looks good."

Belyakova said that Brittney was a "very good teammate," adding that she hoped the trial would end soon "with a positive outcome."

July 15: Brittney's lawyers present medical cannabis prescription as evidence

Brittney appeared in a Moscow courtroom for the second day in a row, where her legal team presented new evidence to help explain why she entered Russia with a cannabis product that led to her arrest.  

Her trial resumed about a week after she entered a guilty plea before the court, which analysts believe may have been her best chance at securing an eventual pardon, or at least leniency, given the Russian court system's near-perfect conviction rate.

Maria Blagovolina, one of the lawyers representing Brittney, said her legal team had presented evidence including "characterization materials, medical records and tax returns." Among the medical documentation was a doctor's prescription for the substance that Brittney admitted bringing into Russia mistakenly as she packed her bags in a rush.  

Her admission of guilt was seen largely as a bid by her legal team to get a verdict as quickly as possible and prevent the trial from dragging out, as Moscow is unlikely to respond to any attempts by Washington to secure her release until the court process has played out.

July 20: Athletes pay tribute to Brittney and call for her release at the ESPY Awards

While serving as host of the 2022 ESPY Awards, Steph Curry used his platform to deliver an impassioned message about Brittney.

Joined by her teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith and fellow WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike, Curry said that, amid the night's celebration, they needed to "acknowledge one [athlete] who isn't here" -- Brittney.

"Because Brittney isn't just on the Phoenix Mercury, she isn't just a member of her team in Russia, she isn't just an Olympian, she's one of us -- the team of athletes in the room tonight and all over the world, a team that has nothing to do with politics or global conflict," Curry shared.

Ogwumike detailed all of Brittney's innumerable accomplishments, sharing, "BG is a WNBA champion, she's an eight-time WNBA all-star, a national champion in college, an Olympic gold medalist, an athlete who has fans all over the world, and a human being whose predicament commands our attention."

"It's been 153 nights now that BG has been wrongfully detained thousands of miles away from home, away from her family, away from her friends, away from her team," an emotional Diggins-Smith shared. "All throughout that time, we've kept her in our thoughts and in our hearts, even though we know that's not nearly enough to bring her home."

"We cannot stop fighting for her, we cannot stop believing for her, and we will not stop hoping for the day we can welcome her home safely," Curry concluded, before all three declared in unison, "We are BG."

Later in the evening, Megan Rapinoe took home the ESPY Award for Best Play, and used her acceptance speech to also show her love for Brittney, and emphasized the importance of keeping the fight going.

"BG deserves to be free. She's being held as a political prisoner," Rapinoe said.

The soccer star admitted that it won't be easy, but explained that the more focus and attention people pay to the cause, the more pressure it puts on those in power to pay attention. And it reminds Brittney that people are still fighting for her.

"We love her, we miss her. We're thinking about her all the time and we’re doing every single thing we can to get her out," Rapinoe shared.

July 21: Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesperson says U.S. must respect Russian law in Brittney's case

The spokesperson for Russia's Foreign Ministry lashed out at the United States characterizing basketball star Brittney's jailing on drug charges as “wrongful detention,” saying it shows disrespect for Russian law.

According to ESPN, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational use in parts of the U.S. has no bearing on what happens in Russia.

“If a U.S. citizen was taken in connection with the fact that she was smuggling drugs, and she does not deny this, then this should be commensurate with our Russian, local laws, and not with those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” Zakharova said.

“You understand, if drugs are legalized in the United States, in a number of states, and this is done for a long time, and now the whole country will become drug-addicted, this does not mean that all other countries are following the same path,” she added.

It is unclear how much longer Brittney's trial will last, but a court has authorized her detention until Dec. 20.

July 26: Brittney's defense hopes for "lenient" sentence in drug trial

Brittney's efense team presented additional evidence to support their position that the basketball player brought cannabis-infused oil cartridges to Russia by accident. They presented negative drug tests, and a drug expert testified that frequent marijuana users would continue testing positive long after the last use.

The expert, Mikhail Tetyushkin, said that medical marijuana is increasingly common in countries around the world, including the United States. He said it is often used by athletes to alleviate pain after sustaining physical trauma, supporting the defense's argument that Griner only used cannabis for medical purposes under doctor's supervision.

"The position of the defense is not that Brittany was allowed to bring banned substances into Russia. We insist that she inadvertently – when packing her suitcase in a rush – did not notice that the substances allowed for use in the USA ended up in this suitcase and arrived in the Russian Federation. She didn't do it on purpose," one of Griner's lawyers, Alexander Boykov, said after the hearing.

Boykov added that "given the number of extenuating circumstances" in Griner's case, they expect "a pretty lenient verdict."

July 27: Brittney testifies that the interpreter provided incomplete translation during her interrogation

Brittney testified at her drug trial that she "takes responsibility" for inadvertently bringing cannabis-infused vape cartridges to Russia, but that she did not intend to break the law. She also testified that a language interpreter provided during her questioning translated only a fraction of what was said and that officials instructed her to sign documents without providing an explanation.

The substance "ended up in my bags by accident… and I take responsibility but I did not intend to smuggle or planned to smuggle [banned substances] to Russia," Brittney said during cross-examination.

During her testimony, the Phoenix Mercury player described making a grueling 13-hour flight to Moscow from Arizona while recovering from COVID-19. Brittney said she still does know how the cannabis oil, for which she had a doctor's recommendation, ended up in her bag, but explained she had packed in haste while under great stress.

She recalled how her luggage was checked upon her Feb. 17 arrival in Moscow and getting pulled aside after inspectors found the cartridges.

Along with the interpreter who allegedly provided an incomplete translation, Brittney said she was offered neither an explanation of her rights nor access to lawyers and was instructed to sign documents without receiving an explanation of what they implied.

"No, my rights were not explained to me. Nobody explained anything to me," Brittney said. "There was a woman there who said that she is a translator, but she only translated words like, 'name, signature.'" 

After hours of proceedings she did not understand, she was allowed to hand over her personal belongings to a lawyer before being led away in handcuffs, Brittney said. She said she received only a cursory translation of the allegations at her during a Feb. 19 hearing where a court sanctioned her arrest.

The next hearing in her trial is expected on August 2. 

July 27: U.S. makes Russia a "substantial proposal" for the release of Brittney and Paul Whelan

The United States has put forward a "substantial proposal" to Russia aimed at securing the release of Brittney and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, offering the first public glimpse at U.S. efforts to bring the pair home.

"In the coming days, I expect to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for the first time since the war began," Blinken said. "I plan to raise an issue that's a top priority for us: the release of Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, who have been wrongfully detained and must be allowed to come home. We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release. Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal."

Blinken said President Joe Biden has been "directly involved," and he "signs off on any proposal that we make, and certainly when it comes to Americans who are being arbitrarily detained abroad, including in this specific case." The conversation between Blinken and Lavrov will be their first interaction since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Whelan has been in Russian custody since Dec. 2018, when he visited Russia for a friend's wedding. He was convicted in a Russian court of espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020.

Whelan's family members welcomed news of the offer, saying they "hope the Russian government responds to the U.S. government and accepts this or some other concession that enables Paul to come home to his family."

July 28: Russia says no deal has been made on prisoner swap

Russian officials reported that negotiations had been taking place for an unspecified possible prisoner swap between the United States and Russia, but that a deal had not yet been reached. The statement followed questions over a CNN report of a U.S. offer to exchange American citizens detained in Russia, WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.

When asked about the report, Russia's foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, "The issue of the mutual exchange of Russian and American citizens in places of detention on the territory of the two countries was once discussed by the presidents of Russia and the United States. They gave instructions to the relevant authorized structures to carry out negotiations… A concrete result has not yet been achieved."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, when asked about the potential swap, said that he didn't discuss ongoing negotiations, but that "so far, there are no agreements in this area."

CNN previously reported that Moscow had requested the U.S. to do a two-for-two swap and add a former colonel from Russia's domestic spy agency to the exchange. The colonel, Viktor Krasikov, was convicted in Germany last year of murdering a former Chechen fighter in a Berlin park.

"We still believe that any exchanges of information on this topic should be discrete," Peskov said Tuesday in a press briefing. "Megaphone diplomacy and public exchange of positions won't lead to a result."

Aug. 2: Brittney appears in court for first time since proposed prisoner swap was revealed

Brittney made her first court appearance since the Biden administration revealed it was prepared to engage in a prisoner swap to free her and another U.S. citizen in Russian custody, Paul Whelan.

In the hearing, Brittney's defense team continued to argue that a state-appointed forensic expert made technical and procedural errors when examining the cannabis-infused vape cartridges found in her luggage when she arrived in Russia.

"The examination [of the cartridges] does not comply with the legislation regarding the completeness of the study and does not comply with the norms of the [Russian Criminal] Code," testified another forensic expert, Dmitry Gladyshev, who was called to the stand by Brittney's lawyers.

Deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, who was present in the courtroom, said the U.S. will continue to do "everything" it can to bring American citizens home.

Aug. 4: Brittney is found guilty of drug possession and smuggling and sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison

Brittney was sentenced to 9 years in prison and given a fine of 1 million rubles (approximately $16,500) by a Russian court, after she was found guilty of drug possession and smuggling. Prosecutors had asked that she receive 9 1/2 years in prison.

The trial concluded nearly six months after her arrest at a Moscow airport in a case that has reached the highest levels of U.S.-Russia diplomacy, with Washington proposing a prisoner exchange. Brittney's legal team said she would appeal.

"I never meant to hurt anybody, to put in jeopardy the Russian population or violate any Russian laws. I made an honest mistake and I hope that your ruling, that it doesn't end my life here," Brittney told the court earlier that day, apologizing to her family, her teammates, her fans, and the Russian people.

"I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom... I hope you take into account all the documents, all the character lists that everybody has sent in on my behalf... This is my second home, and all I wanted to do was just win championships and make them proud," she added.

"Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney," President Joe Biden said in response to the verdict. "It's unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."

With the verdict and sentence now official, attention will turn to the high-stakes possibility of a prisoner swap.

Oct. 3: Russian court sets Brittney's appeal hearing of nine-year prison term for Oct. 25

Per the Associated Press, a Russian court set Oct. 25 as the date for Brittney's appeal of her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.

The announcement comes a month after President Biden met with Cherelle and Brittney's agent, Lindsay Colas. Biden also sat down separately with Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan's sister. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shared that Biden used the meetings to assure the families of his "continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely.''

"He asked after the wellbeing of Elizabeth and Cherelle and their respective families during this painful time. The president appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and acknowledged that every minute they are being held is a minute too long," Jean-Pierre said.

"I want to thank President Biden for today's meeting," Cherelle also said in a statement on Instagram. "It was an honor to speak with him directly about the Brittney we know and love, and to thank him for the administration's efforts to secure her release. I've felt every minute of the grueling seven months without her. I look forward to the day my wife is back home."

Oct. 25: Russian court upholds Brittney's conviction

A Russian court upheld Brittney's nine-year prison sentence for drug possession on Oct. 25, rejecting her appeal in a session where she appeared via video call from a penal colony outside Moscow. Griner could still appeal to a higher court, but her lawyers have yet to confirm whether they will take the case further.

The decision clears the way for the WNBA star to serve nine years in a penal colony unless the U.S. government negotiates a deal.

"This has been very traumatic experience, waiting for this day, waiting for the first court, and getting nine years for a crime that I was barely over the significant amount," Griner told the Moscow hearing. "I don't understand the first court's decision to give one year less than the max when I've been here almost 8 months, and people with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given... I really hope that the court will adjust this sentence, because it's been very, very stressful and very traumatic to my mental and psyche, being away from my family and not being able to communicate."

Nov. 4: Brittney is transferred to penal colony in Mordovia

The WNBA star's legal team confirmed that she had been moved to a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia on Nov. 4.

Her attorneys, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said they visited Brittney at the IK-2 labor camp following the Russian court's recent refusal to overturn her nine-year prison sentence.

"Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment," they said in a statement. 

The attorneys added that "this is a very challenging period" for Griner. 

Dec. 8: Brittney is released in a one-for-one prisoner swap

A U.S. official confirmed to CBS News on Dec. 8 that Brittney had been released in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout. The one-for-one exchange agreement negotiated with Moscow in recent weeks was given final approval by President Biden within just the last week, according to sources familiar with the deal. The swap, first reported by CBS News, took place on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.

Five former U.S. officials told CBS News the agreement had been reached as of last Thursday.  

A White House official said President Joe Biden had spoken on the phone with Brittney from the Oval Office following her release, and her wife Cherelle Griner and Vice President Kamala Harris were also in the room. Per standard procedure for freed U.S. prisoners, Griner was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation. 

"She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," President Biden said in a tweet, which included a couple of photos of himself in the Oval Office with Cherelle Griner.

Dec. 9: Brittney arrives back in the U.S. following her release


On Friday, Dec. 9, Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, revealed that Brittney had arrived back in the U.S. Carstens tweeted, "So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil. Welcome home BG!"

Brittney landed at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas, and per standard procedure for freed U.S. prisoners, was expected to quickly undergo a medical evaluation.