Brittney Griner, WNBA star for the Phoenix Mercury, was found guilty on drug charges in Russia after being detained for 5 months. She was sentenced to 9 years in prison, but President Biden is vying for her release. If you’re a little confused on what’s been happening, we’re here to break it down. Here’s a complete timeline.
Detainment and pre-trial
Griner sets off to play in Russia during the off-season, but gets detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport. She was accused of having vape carts containing hashish oil, which is illegal.
President Biden declares Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to be a war criminal after his attacks on Ukrainian civilians. The next day, Griner’s detainment is extended until May as Putin continues to attack Ukraine. People in the States grow concerned over her well-being and treatment during detention. The next day, the U.S. State Department releases a statement demanding access to the star directly.
Griner is finally allowed to meet with U.S. officials for the first time. According to State Department spokesman, Ned Price, she says she is “doing as well as can be expected under these very difficult circumstances.”
The public pushes for the release of Griner and other Americans detained in Russia after the release of Trevor Reed, a Marine veteran. He was part of a prisoner exchange.
The State Department officially classifies Griner as being wrongfully detained. This means that they can begin to negotiate with Russia for her freedom instead of waiting to see how things turn out.
Russia extends Griner’s detainment until June 18th.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, appears on Good Morning America to speak about her wife’s detainment. She reveals that she was told that her wife is a political pawn, and if Russia is keeping her because they want Biden to do something, she urges him to do it.
NBA players speak about Griner’s case before the Finals. Steph Curry says, “She needs to be home, she needs to be safe, she needs to be with her family.”
Russia again extends Griner’s detention until July 2nd.
Cherelle Griner says she lost trust in the U.S. government after she was promised an anniversary call with her wife that didn’t happen because the embassy wasn’t staffed on a weekend. The State Department calls this a “logistical error.”
Griner’s preliminary hearing ends in a fourth detention extension and the official first day of trial, July 1st.
Griner’s trial begins in Russia. On the 4th, a handwritten letter from Griner to Biden urges him to help with her release. She states that she’s scared she might be in Russian prison alone forever. The next day, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tells reporters that Biden read the letter and that her case is a top priority. The following day, Biden and Kamala Harris call Cherelle to reassure her that they are working hard to bring her home.
Griner pleads guilty to drug charges, saying the carts being in her luggage were unintentional, and didn’t aim to break the law when she accidentally packed them. She receives a letter from Biden from U.S. officials in attendance.
Cherelle Griner holds a press conference and says Biden’s letter brought her and her wife happiness. She says they believe that he is working hard and hasn’t forgotten about Brittney, which was her biggest request.
During the trial, her attorney presents a letter from an American doctor that says Griner can use cannabis for chronic pain.
Griner speaks with ABC News before heading to court and wishes her wife good luck on the bar exam, as she graduated from law school. The next day, Griner testifies that the vape carts were unintentional. She was rushing while packing and stressed after having COVID shortly before, and had a medical-use U.S. cannabis certificate.
The verdict, sentencing, and aftermath
Griner is found guilty and sentenced to 9 years in prison. Her attorneys state their intention to file an appeal. Biden urges Russia to immediately release her and Paul Whelan, stating “My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue.”
A Russian diplomat confirms that talks have begun between the two countries for an exchange, stating “The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals, proceeding from the ‘do not harm’ principle.” The next day, Griner’s appeal is filed.
This brings us to October 25th, over 2 months later. Griner’s appeal was rejected after only 30 minutes of deliberation. Beforehand, Griner pled with the court to reassess her sentence, apologizing for the mistake. She stresses that she understands her charges, but it’s been very stressful and traumatic being away from her family.
We at ULTRA hope for the safe release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and pray that they can return to their families soon. For more information about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, check here.
Photo via Charlie Neibergall/AP