The two-time Olympic gold medal winner and eight-time WNBA All-Star is being “wrongfully detained,” according to the United States government by Russia on charges of bringing vape cartridges filled with hashish oil in her luggage while returning to play for her professional team there.
Griner remained in pre-trial detention for more than three months prior to this month’s trial. On Aug. 4, she was officially convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison for drug possession and smuggling.
VOICE TO THE VOICELESS’: Mural features Brittney Griner, wrongfully detained Americans
SPORTS NEWSLETTER: Sign up now for daily updates sent to your inbox
Here is a timeline of events dating back to Griner’s arrest.
Feb. 17: Griner stopped at airport
Although the public would not know for more than two weeks, Griner is stopped by Russian authorities. Images later released showed her going through security at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport while returning to play for her Russian professional basketball team, UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Griner’s arrest would not be made public for nearly three weeks. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) later said on March 9 that the arrest took place on Feb. 17.
Feb. 24: Russia invades Ukraine
After weeks of ramped up troop activity near the country’s shared border, Russia begins a bloody invasion of Ukraine. In response, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with military support and levied economic sanctions on Russia.
March 5: News breaks about Brittney Griner’s arrest
The Russian Federal Customs Service says that they detained a “professional basketball player, a member of the US National Basketball Association, a two-time Olympic basketball champion in the US team.” Russian state news agency TASS identified the player as Griner.
The Russian Federal Customs Service maintains Griner carried vape cartridges filled with “cannabis oil.”
The WNBA, the Phoenix Mercury and USA Basketball all said they are monitoring the situation.
March 6: U.S. government speaks about Griner
At a press briefing, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is asked about Griner’s arrest for the first time.
“We have an embassy team that’s working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia,” Blinken said alongside Moldova President Maia Sandu. “We’re doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected.
When asked about Griner’s case since, Blinken has referred generally to “all detained Americans abroad.”
March 7: Cherelle Griner speaks out
Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, posts an emotional Instagram message thanking supporters and confirming Brittney Griner has been in Russia for weeks.
“My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats every day that goes by,” Cherelle Griner wrote. “I miss your voice. I miss your presence.,” You’re our person! There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting. We await the day to love on you as a family.”
March 17: Pre-trial detainment extended
Russian state media reported earlier in the day that Griner’s pre-trial detention had been extended until May 19. A U.S. State Department official told USA TODAY Sports the embassy in Moscow was being denied consular access.
March 23: Griner allowed to meet U.S. officials
Consular access is finally granted and State Department spokesman Ned Price said Griner was “in good condition.”
April 27: Trevor Reed freed
Reed appeared at a rally for Griner on June 9 in her hometown of Houston, Texas and advocated for the release of her and Whelan.
May 3: U.S. classifies Griner as ‘wrongfully detained’
The U.S. State Department says that it has reclassified Brittney Griner as being “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government. Thus, Griner’s case transfers to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs within the State Department.
May 6: WNBA season begins
May 25: Cherelle Griner on Good Morning America
Cherelle Griner goes on “Good Morning America” and tells Robin Roberts she wants President Joe Biden to act and bring her wife home.
“I just keep hearing, ‘He has the power,’ ‘she’s political pawn,'” Cherelle Griner said. “If they’re holding her because they want you (Biden) to do something then I want you to do it.”
May 27: Brittney Griner detained 100 days
The 100th day of Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia.
June 13: State Dept. officials meet with Mercury
State Department officials, including those from the hostage affairs office, met with members of the Mercury concerning the Biden administration’s efforts to secure her release.
June 27: Pre-trial detention extended 6 months
July 1: Trial begins
Russian legal experts characterized the trial as a “sham,” but Griner’s trial opened with two witness testimonies and the absence of two others.
July 4: Griner’s letter to Biden released
Representatives for Griner shared a few lines from the hand-written note to Biden, including:
″…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.
July 6: Biden, Harris call Cherelle Griner
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris speak by phone with Cherelle Griner.
“The president called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement.
July 7: Griner pleads guilty
Griner pleaded guilty to the drug charges, saying she had accidentally packed the cartridges into her luggage.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said in English, per Reuters.
The guilty plea was also a tool to secure a more lenient sentence, according to experts.
July 14: Griner receives support in courtroom
In court again, Griner at one point held up a photo of fellow WNBA players wearing her name and No. 42 on their uniforms in tribute during part of the 2022 All-Star Game.
The captain and general manager of UMMC Ekaterinburg also testified on behalf of Griner’s character.
July 15: Lawyer argues Griner allowed to use marijuana
“The attending physician gave Brittney recommendations for the use of medical cannabis,” said her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina. “The permission was issued on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health.”
July 26: Brittney Griner’s lawyers argue for cannabis use
Griner’s lawyers questioned a narcologist who said cannabis could be used to treat chronic pain. Her team did not dispute that she should not have brought the vape cartridges and that they were accidentally packed.
July 27: U.S. makes ‘substantial’ offer for prisoner swap
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States made a proposal to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan, an American who has been in Russian custody since 2018 and is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges the U.S. disputes.
CNN reported that the U.S. offered Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer nicknamed “The Merchant of Death,” for the prisoner swap.
“There is utility in sending clear, direct messages to the Russians on key priorities for us,” Blinken said. “These include the return of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, and following through on the grain agreement.”
July 29: Blinken speaks with Russian Foreign Minister
For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine, Blinken connected with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It was a “frank and direct conversation” regarding the release of Griner and Whelan. Lavrov and Russia responded by suggesting the U.S. keep the negotiations private.
August 2: Prosecutors call narcotics expert
Griner’s defense has pointed to a doctor’s recommendation for medicinal cannabis use as to why Griner accidentally packed the cartridges. However, the state responded by calling on a narcotics expert who analyzed a sample of what authorities said they discovered.
August 4: Griner convicted of drug possession and smuggling
Griner’s six-month saga came to an end on Aug. 4 when she was officially convicted of drug possession and smuggling following a trial that lasted a little over a month. Russian prosecutors asked that she receive 9½ years in prison, and she was sentenced to nine years behind bars.
Contributing: Scooby Axson.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.