Brittney Griner's Russia TIMELINE explained: From 9-year prison sentence in Russia to ultimate US return
WASHINGTON DC: Brittney Griner is back home after spending nine months in prison and was released on Thursday, December 8, in a prisoner exchange with Russia. President Joe Biden decided to trade the 'Merchant of Death' Viktor Bout for the WNBA player. Griner was first detained on February 17. After she was found guilty, she was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison with no hopes of finding a way back to the US while the pressure here was rising for the officials. Let's take a look at the timeline of Brittney Griner and her arrest.
On February 17, 2022, the 32-year-old returned to Russia to play during the WNBA's off-season. However, she was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki for the alleged possession of vape cartridges containing hashish oil which is illegal in the country. Exactly one week after, Putin broke the news by invading Ukraine and declaring war bringing everything to a standstill. Not too long after, Griner's return and US's negation seemed impossible because of the wave of sanctions that were imposed on Russia, and Biden had called Vladimir Putin a "war criminal" during a press conference at the White House on March 16, as per ABC 7.
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Brittney Griner's pre-trial detention was postponed four times
A day after, Russia extended the pre-trial detention of Griner until May 19 increasing concern for her safety as this move came at a delicate time when US-Russian relations were in turmoil. On March 18, US State Department demanded access to Griner and claimed to have been closely engaged in this case and in frequent contact with Brittney Griner's legal team. The statement asked the Russian government to provide consular access to all US citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention.
On March 23, Griner met with US officials for the first time and State Department spokesman Ned Price revealed that Griner was well given the circumstances. This meeting came adjacent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken's announcement that the State Department has summarized that Russian forces have indeed committed war crimes in Ukraine. With no development for over a month, calls for Griner's release started piling up after US Marine veteran Trevor Reed was freed from a Russian prison as part of a prisoner exchange on April 27.
US and Russia make a dramatic deal
By May 3, State Department had classified Griner's case as "wrongfully detained" and was now more involved than ever. WNBA honors Griner with a floor decal bearing her initials and jersey number (42) on May 6. To much dismay, Russia pushed Griner's pre-trial detention until June 18. On June 8, Golden State Warriors player Steph Curry urged for her safe return. With no intentions of letting her go, Russia once again postponed Griner's pre-trial detention and kept her in custody until July 2. Cherelle Griner, the WNBA player's wife, started breaking apart on June 20 when the preplanned anniversary call did not take place.
Brittney Griner's trial begins
Griner's first day of trial was set for July 1 and her friends and family members gathered for a vigil outside the Russian Consulate in New York City on June 30. The trial began on July 1 and by July 4 Griner personally reached out to Biden for her safe return. Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges on July 7 and claimed that the vape cartridges containing hashish oil were in her luggage unintentionally.
Brittney Griner's wife Cherelle speaks at press conference as Griner testifies
On July 8, Giner’s wife Cherelle speaks at a press conference explaining how Biden restored some of her faith. Character witnesses take the stand in Griner’s trial on July 14, and appear for the fourth day of her trial on July 15. Her attorney presented her with a letter in which an American doctor granted her permission to use cannabis. While she is expected to testify, her testimony is delayed. She once again returned to court on July 26. On July 27, Griner testifies in court that she did not intend on leaving the vape cartridges in her bag. As she left in a hurry and was stressed after recovering from Covid-19 that year, she forgot the items in her bag. By July 29, a possible prisoner exchange was in the works.
Brittney Griner is released in a prisoner swap
The trial went on till August 4 and she was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison. Merely 10 days after a senior Russian diplomat confirmed the possible prisoner exchange by December 8, after months of delays and pleas getting rejected, Griner was back home.