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Brittney Griner Russia drug case timeline: Prison, trial, release

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Brittney Griner freed in U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange (2:04)

T.J. Quinn details Brittney Griner's release from Russian prison in a 1-for-1 prisoner swap. (2:04)

Russia has freed WNBA star Brittney Griner in a prisoner exchange. American officials confirmed to ESPN's T.J. Quinn on Thursday that the U.S. is releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

President Joe Biden tweeted Thursday morning: "I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home."

Brittney's wife, Cherelle Griner, also spoke at the White House and thanked a number of people who helped secure her wife's release. "Today my family is whole," Cherelle Griner said.

The women's basketball world also shared relief Thursday. "Brittney is on her way home where she belongs," LSU coach Kim Mulkey, who coached Griner at Baylor, told ESPN. "Our prayers remain with her and her family as they recover and heal together."

Brittney Griner, who had been detained in Russia for 294 days, was serving a nine-year sentence and had recently been relocated to a penal colony in Mordovia, about 210 miles east of Moscow.

Griner, a Phoenix Mercury star and NCAA, WNBA and Olympic champion, had been detained in Russia since being arrested in February on charges that she brought vape cartridges carrying a small amount of cannabis oil into the country. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in August, and her appeal was denied Oct. 25.

Griner's ordeal began Feb. 17 as she was returning to Russia to finish her overseas season there. Here is a look at the events of the past 10 months while Griner was imprisoned.

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First look at Brittney Griner after her release from Russian prison

Watch some of the first recorded video of Brittney Griner after she boards a charter plane and begins her return home to the United States.

Feb. 17: Mercury star is detained

While traveling to Russia to play overseas in the offseason, Griner is detained at Sheremetyevo Airport outside of Moscow after customs officials allege they found vape cartridges that contained oil derived from cannabis in her luggage. Griner was returning to play for club team UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, where she has competed in the WNBA offseason since 2014. There is no public announcement of her arrest.


Feb. 24: Russia invades Ukraine

Russian military forces, on the orders of Vladimir Putin, invade Ukraine, triggering a series of harsh economic sanctions from the United States and other western nations that complicate efforts by U.S. officials to bring Griner home.


March 5: News breaks of Griner's detainment

The Russian Federal Customs Service, as first reported by the New York Times, announces it has Griner in custody on drug charges. The WNBA and Griner's agent say they are working to get her home. Griner faces a maximum sentence of 10 years; Russia has harsh drug laws with no exceptions for cannabis under any circumstances.


March 6: U.S. Secretary of State discusses Griner's detainment

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the United States will "provide every possible assistance" to citizens who are being held in foreign countries. "We have an embassy team that's working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia," he adds. "We're doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected."


March 17: Griner's detention extended

Russian media reports that Griner's detention has been extended until May 19, which means she will be held at least three months before her case is resolved. The prosecutor requested the detention to continue investigating Griner's case.


March 17: U.S. State Dept. tells ESPN it has not had access to Griner

Although she has been detained a month, U.S. officials say they still haven't spoken to Griner since she was arrested. A State Department official issues a statement to ESPN, saying, "We insist the Russian government provide consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention, as Brittney Griner is."

The source close to Griner said they have gotten frequent updates on her from her team of Russian attorneys. "I wouldn't say she's 'good,' but she's OK," the source said.

The statement marks a slight but significant change in the government's tone when it comes to Griner. Until now the government has deliberately kept a low profile with her case, hoping not to increase her profile to the point where she might become a valuable political asset to the Russian government. It generally has avoided commenting at all, and when Blinken was asked about Griner at a news conference last week he gave a tepid statement that did not mention her by name.

Based on State Department guidance, Griner's representatives have asked the WNBA, NBA, the media and Griner's supporters generally to keep any attention to her case "on a low simmer," as one source said.


March 23: U.S. officials meet with Griner

U.S. consular officials visit with Griner in Russia for the first time, reporting she is doing "well." The U.S. State Department had said Russian officials were denying them access to Griner and two American men who are in custody, contrary to international law requirements.


March 30: WNBA players break silence on Griner

Hesitant to talk about Griner's detention and potentially hurt her case, WNBA players have said little since her arrest, but Breanna Stewart and Angel McCoughtry discuss WNBA salaries and why a handful of players head to Russia every offseason.

"The big thing is the fact that we have to go over there. It was BG, but it could have been anybody," Breanna Stewart, who earns over $1 million to play in Russia, told The Associated Press. "WNBA players need to be valued in their country and they won't have to play overseas."

Per the WNBA's collective bargaining agreement, which runs through 2027, players are paid an average of $130,000, with top players able to earn more than $500,000 through salary, marketing agreements, an in-season tournament and bonuses.


April 11: WNBA commissioner assures league working toward Griner's return

Ahead of the 2022 WNBA draft, Cathy Engelbert said the league is doing all it can to "bring her home."

"This is an unimaginable situation for BG to be in," the WNBA commissioner said. "She continues to have our full support. Certainly, we're trying everything we can, every angle, working with her legal representation, her agent, elected leaders, the administration. Just everybody in our ecosystem to try and find ways to get her home safely and as quickly as we can."

Engelbert also announces that Griner's "BG's Heart and Sole" shoe drive, which has collected new and gently used shoes for homeless people in Phoenix, will be held in all 12 WNBA cities throughout the upcoming season.


April 27: Former U.S. Marine released from Russian custody in prisoner exchange

Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who has been held in Russia since August 2019, is unexpectedly released from Russian custody in exchange for Russian national Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was serving a 20-year sentence in the United States for smuggling drugs. The exchange is the first hopeful sign for Griner's family that a diplomatic channel remains open between the two countries despite the war in Ukraine.


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U.S. government considers Griner to be 'wrongfully detained' by Russia

Michele Steele reports on the next steps for Brittney Griner now that the United States government has reclassified her as "wrongfully detained" by Russia.

May 3: U.S. Department of State declares Griner a wrongful detainee

The U.S. government now considers Griner to be "wrongfully detained" by the Russian government, signaling a significant shift in how officials will try to get her home. The United States will seek to negotiate her release rather than wait for the Russian case against her to come to a conclusion.

Additionally, Griner's supporters have kept a low profile up to this point in the event she might be released before facing trial. But after the announcement, they actively press the White House to bring her home. Sources say Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (and former governor, cabinet member and congressman), is working with his organization to secure Griner's release.


May 3: WNBA announces it will honor Griner with season-long tribute

Just days ahead of the 2022 season openers, the WNBA says a decal with Griner's initials and No. 42 jersey number will be installed on every court around the league.


May 13: Griner detention extended 30 days; Russian state media says Griner might be traded for convicted Russian arms dealer

Griner appears in court in Moscow as her pretrial detention is extended by one month.

At the same time, the Russian state news agency TASS publishes a story saying there were negotiations between the United States and Russia to exchange Griner for Viktor Bout, a Russian man serving a 25-year sentence in the United States for financing terrorism. American government officials, speaking to ESPN, express skepticism about the reporting, saying it was likely a tactic to pressure the U.S. government.


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Adam Silver: NBA working to bring Brittney Griner home

NBA commissioner Adam Silver details the league's efforts to try and grant Brittney Griner's release from Russia.

May 17: NBA commissioner says league working to bring Griner home

NBA commissioner Adam Silver tells ESPN's Malika Andrews that the league is working "side by side" with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert to bring Griner home, adding that the NBA was following the advice of experts when it did not take an aggressive approach during the early stages of Griner's detention in Russia.

"We've been in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, every level of government and also through the private sector as well," Silver said. "Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia."


May 20: State Department continues to push for regular contact with Griner

For the second time in a week, a consular officer gains access to Griner, but the State Department maintains that sporadic visits with the WNBA star are not sufficient.

"Our message is a clear and simple one: We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees," State Department representative Ned Price said. "One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access as well."


May 25: Cherelle Griner calls on President Biden to help bring Griner home

In her first televised interviews since Griner was detained, Cherelle Griner says she hasn't spoken to wife Brittney Griner since Feb. 17, the day the WNBA star was arrested in Russia.

"There is one person that can go get her, and that's our president," Griner told Angela Rye in an interview on ESPN. "He has that power. You know, I'm just like, 'Why are we not using it? Like, urgently, use it.' We're expecting him to use his power to get it done."

Cherelle Griner also spoke with Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" the same day.


Early June: United States secretly offers Russia a trade for Griner's release

The United States secretly offers to trade Bout for Griner and Paul Wheln -- another American considered to be wrongfully detained and who has been in Russian custody on espionage charges since December 2018. The offer is not reported until late July.


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Cherelle Griner says scheduled call never happened

Wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner claims no one was there to pick up Griner's calls because the phones at the U.S. Embassy were unstaffed.

June 20: Cherelle Griner: 'Zero trust in our government' after Griner's calls go unanswered due to logistical errors

More than four months since they last spoke on the phone, Griner was expected to call wife Cherelle Griner on the couple's fourth wedding anniversary on June 18. But more than a dozen calls from Griner went unanswered through the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, which the couple had been told would patch the call through to Cherelle Griner in Phoenix. Instead, the calls went unanswered because the desk at the embassy where the phone rang was apparently unstaffed Saturday, Cherelle Griner said.

"We deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak with her wife because of a logistical error," the State Department said Monday.

"I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now," Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press. "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?"

The following day, Biden administration officials said the call was rescheduled.


July 1: Griner's trial begins

The trial opens in Khimki, a Moscow suburb, on charges that Griner tried to smuggle drugs into Russia. The trial is adjourned until July 7.


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Griner makes direct appeal to President Biden for freedom

White House officials have confirmed that President Joe Biden has read the handwritten letter from Brittney Griner appealing for her freedom.

July 4: 'Terrified' Griner sends letter to Biden

White House officials confirm President Joe Biden received a handwritten letter from Griner appealing for her freedom.

"I'm terrified I might be here forever," Griner writes in an excerpt released by her representatives. "I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don't forget about me and the other detainees."

Citing her father's military service, Griner writes the Fourth of July has new meaning to her. "It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year."


July 6: Biden, Harris call Cherelle Griner

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris speak with Cherelle Griner to reassure her that they are working to win Griner's freedom as soon as possible, the White House said.

Cherelle Griner, who also speaks at a rally in Phoenix later that day, says, "I am hopeful in knowing that the President read my wife's letter and took the time to respond. I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten."

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Cherelle Griner speaks of frustration at rally for her wife

Cherelle Griner speaks at a rally about her wife, Brittney, and how much she wants her to return home.


July 7: Griner pleads guilty to drug charges

Griner pleads guilty but says she accidentally brought hashish oil into Russia and did not intend to break the law. Under Russian law, admitting guilt doesn't automatically end a trial, which will continue until the entire prosecutor's case is read into the record. Witnesses also are called. The guilty plea is viewed by experts as a strategic move since the overwhelming majority of cases end in convictions.


July 10: WNBA honors Griner at 2022 WNBA All-Star Game

The WNBA All-Stars each wear Griner's No. 42 jersey in the second half of the midseason showcase. Griner was named an honorary All-Star when rosters were released June 22.

Prior to the All-Star Game, Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the WNBA players' association, joined Cherelle Griner, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Seattle Storm star Sue Bird and union leader Terri Jackson for a news conference calling for mercy in Brittney Griner's sentencing and focusing on her humanity.


July 14: Russian teammate, GM support Griner in court

Griner has been an exemplary player and citizen during her six seasons in Russia, two members of Griner's Russian club team tell the judge as they appear as character witnesses in her trial.

UMMC Ekaterinburg teammate Evgeniya Belyakova and Maxim Ryabkov, the team's general manager, appear during a brief afternoon court session while Griner sat in the defendants' cage not far away. Their appearance is believed to be the first in-person contact Griner has had with anyone she knows -- other than the Russian attorneys hired for her case -- since she was arrested Feb. 17.


July 15: Lawyer argues Griner allowed to use marijuana for pain

Griner's lawyer gives the court a letter from a U.S. doctor recommending she use medical cannabis to treat pain. The defense also submits tests Griner underwent as part of an anti-doping check, which didn't detect any prohibited substances in her system.


July 19: President Biden signs executive order

The White House announces that President Biden is signing an executive order to hold anyone involved in the wrongful detainment of an American citizen accountable. It is meant to create a deterrence for foreign governments.


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Curry, Diggins-Smith, Ogwumike advocate for Brittney Griner's release

Nneka Ogwumike, Stephen Curry and Skylar Diggins-Smith all deliver a powerful message advocating for the freedom of Brittney Griner.

July 20: Curry, Diggins-Smith, Ogwumike advocate for Griner's release at ESPYS

While honoring the WNBA for being recognized as the sports humanitarian league of the year, Nneka Ogwumike, Steph Curry and Skylar Diggins-Smith paused to encourage the sports community to continue to work to free Griner.

"BG is a WNBA champion. She's an eight-time WNBA All-Star. A national champion in college. An Olympic gold medalist," Ogwumike said. "(She's an) Athlete who has fans all over the world. A human being whose predicament demands our attention."

Added Curry: "We urge the entire global sports community to continue to stay energized on her behalf, because Brittney isn't just on the Phoenix Mercury. She isn't just on her team in Russia. She isn't just an Olympian. She's one of us."


July 27: U.S. makes 'significant' offer for prisoner swap

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announces the United States made a "significant offer" for Griner's release in June. CNN reports that the offer included trading Bout for Griner and Whelan.

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United States offers deal to Russia for release of Brittney Griner

T.J. Quinn outlines the Biden administration's offer to Russia to bring home WNBA star Brittney Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan.


July 28: Russia responds: Negotiations should be kept quiet

Russian officials say that any possible prisoner swap with the United States involving Griner should be conducted without fanfare, and only after the completion of Griner's trial.

"Normally, the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.


Aug. 2: WNBA players will skip playing in Russia this offseason

Former UMMC Ekaterinburg players such as Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart will not play in Russia this WNBA offseason.


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Nneka Ogwumike: We need to be strong for BG and bring her home

Sparks player and WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike reacts to Brittney Griner's nine-year prison sentence being upheld.

Aug. 4: Griner found guilty, sentenced to nine years

Griner is sentenced to nine years in prison. During sentencing, Judge Anna Sotnikova says she had found that Griner intentionally broke the law and also fined her 1 million rubles (about $16,700). The conclusion of the trial is expected to allow negotiations for a prisoner swap to accelerate.

The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of 10 years that Griner had faced under the charges; prosecutors had asked for a 9½-year sentence.

Griner's defense attorneys say they will appeal.

That same night in the WNBA, members of the Phoenix Mercury and Connecticut Sun stand arm-in-arm in a circle at halfcourt prior to their game to observe "a 42-second moment of solidarity" for Griner.


Aug. 15: Griner's defense team appeals conviction

In an expected move, Griner's lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov file an appeal of her nine-year Russian prison sentence for drugs possession. After Griner's conviction, Blagovolina and Boykov said the sentence was excessive and that in similar cases, defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.


Sept. 16: President Biden meets with Cherelle Griner at White House

President Joe Biden meets with Cherelle Griner and Elizabeth Whelan -- sister of detained former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan -- in separate meetings in the Oval Office to reassure the families that the detainees "are at front of mind," White House officials say.


Oct. 6: Griner at 'weakest moment' in Russia, wife says

Appearing on "CBS Mornings," Cherelle Griner says Brittney Griner is at her "absolute weakest moment in life right now" ahead of her hearing to appeal her nine-year prison sentence.

"She's very afraid about being left and forgotten in Russia," Cherelle Griner said.


Oct. 25: Russian court rejects Griner's appeal of nine-year sentence

With Griner appearing via videoconference, a Moscow court rejects her appeal of her nine-year sentence on drug charges, an anticipated result in a trial that U.S. and international officials have called an illegitimate proceeding.

Several officials have said in recent weeks that they believe Russia will not engage seriously in negotiations for a prisoner exchange until after the U.S. midterm elections Nov. 8, not wanting to give the Biden administration a political victory.


Nov. 9: Griner moving to Russian penal colony; exact location unknown

Griner is being transferred to a Russian penal colony, but her lawyers don't know where she is or where she's heading, her Russian legal team announces from Moscow.

The transfer began in early November, her lawyers say, far far ahead of the schedule they had anticipated after Griner's appeal was denied Oct. 25. Typically, her attorneys had said, a transfer takes weeks or months. Griner's attorneys and U.S. officials were not aware she had been moved until Nov. 8.


Nov. 17: Griner moves to penal colony in Mordovia

Griner was transferred to a penal colony 200-plus miles southeast of Moscow, her lawyers say. Her legal team said Griner had been taken to Female Penal Colony IK-2 in the town of Yavas in the Mordovia region.

"We can confirm that Brittney began serving her sentence at IK-2 in Mordovia. We visited her early this week," lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boikov say in a statement. "Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment," they continued.


Nov. 18: U.S. Department of State: Russia's public statement runs counter to lack of negotiating

Shortly after a potentially promising Russian statement about negotiations to bring Griner home, the U.S. Department of State issues a quick dismissal.

Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, was quoted by Russian media early Nov. 18 saying there was new "activity" in talks that could see convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving 25 years in a U.S. prison, returned to Russia.

But a State Department spokesperson fired back that Russia still has not seriously engaged in negotiations, no matter what Ryabkov said.

"We are not going to comment on the specifics of any proposals other than to say that we have made a substantial offer that the Russian Federation has consistently failed to negotiate in good faith," the statement said. "The U.S. Government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with the Russian government. The Russian government's failure to seriously negotiate on these issues in the established channel, or any other channel for that matter runs counter to its public statements."


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Brittney Griner's wife reacts to her being freed

Cherelle Griner gives thanks to everyone involved in helping free her wife, Brittney, in a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Russia.

Dec. 8: Griner is being freed in U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange

Russia has freed Griner in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, with American officials confirming to ESPN's T.J. Quinn that the U.S. is releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

The swap, made at a time of heightened tensions over the invasion of Ukraine, achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden but carried a heavy price and left behind an American jailed for nearly four years in Russia.

The deal is the second such exchange with Russia in eight months.

T.J. Quinn, M.A. Voepel, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.