Brittney Griner's trial is coming to an end — Here's what we know about her detainment and potential path home


Brittney Griner in Russia
Brittney Griner is led to a July hearing in Russian court.


  • Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since customs agents at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport claimed to have found vapes containing hashish oil in the WNBA superstar's luggage.

  • Three months after the two-time Olympic gold medalist was taken into Russian custody, the US government designated her as wrongfully detained and began working to secure her freedom.

  • Russia has since brought the eight-time WNBA All-Star to trial, and if she finds herself among the 99% of defendants in Russia who are convicted, she could face up to 10 years in Russian prison.

  • Here's a recap of everything that's happened in the six months since Griner arrived in Russia:



Brittney Griner is one of the most talented basketball players of her generation.
Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner.


A two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, Griner is best known as a standout for the Baylor Bears and, after college, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury.
Brittney Griner.
Griner.


She's also known for her incredible dunking ability — a rarity among women's basketball stars.
Brittney Griner dunks during the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game.

Brittney Griner threw down a dunk in the WNBA Finals, and NBA stars sitting courtside lost their minds



In addition to dominating the domestic league, Griner has found great success competing overseas during the WNBA off-season to supplement her income.
Brittney Griner and UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Griner and her UMMC Ekaterinburg teammates celebrate winning the EuroLeague.

How low WNBA salaries led to an American basketball superstar's detainment in Russia



Each year since 2014 — just her second out of college — Griner has headed to Russia to compete for European powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Griner (right) competes for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.
Griner (right) competes for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.

Brittney Griner's Russian team — owned by a Putin-aligned oligarch — is a hot spot for WNBA superstars



The 2021-22 WNBA off-season was no exception; Griner suited up for the six-time EuroLeague champions almost immediately after her Phoenix Mercury lost in the WNBA Finals last fall.
Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner.


Her wife, Cherelle, later recalled that their final conversation before Griner's departure was about how she "didn't want to go back" to the Ural city.
Brittney (left) and Cherelle Griner.
Brittney (left) and Cherelle Griner.

Brittney Griner's wife said final conversation with WNBA star was about how 'she didn't want to go back' to Russia



February 17: Midway through her season with UMMC Ekaterinburg, Griner flew back into Moscow after a brief return to the United States.
Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner.


After landing, Griner worked her way through airport security. After placing her luggage on a conveyor belt for an X-Ray scan, she was pulled aside by Russian customs agents.
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury high fives her teammate before Game Two of the 2021 WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky on October 13, 2021 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury high fives her teammate before Game Two of the 2021 WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky on October 13, 2021 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.


A video released out of Russia shows an airport employee rifling through an open suitcase, presumably belonging to Griner, as the star looks on.

 



Months later, Griner testified that she was forced to sign documents written in Russian, which she tried to decipher using Google Translate on her cell phone. She was never read her rights.
Brittney Griner.

Brittney Griner testified that she had to use Google Translate to understand documents she says Russian officials forced her to sign



Cherelle later revealed that she learned via text message that Brittney was taken into a room for further questioning. Eventually, officials took her phone and brought her into custody.
Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner.


March 5: Only after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 — several weeks after Griner was first detained — did the general public learn of her arrest on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs.
Brittney Griner appears in handcuffs during a May 13 hearing outside of Moscow.
Griner appears in handcuffs during a May 13 hearing outside of Moscow.

Brittney Griner's wife described fears that she'd 'never see' the WNBA star again after Russia's invasion of Ukraine



Little by little, fans, loved ones, and politicians began to speak out about Griner's detainment.
Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee calls Brittany Griner's detainment in Russia 'targeted and purposeful'



One congressman — Rep. Colin Allred of Griner's native Texas — was quick to call the situation "extremely concerning."
Brittney Griner enters the courtroom to testify during her Russian trial for drug smuggling.
Brittney Griner enters the courtroom to testify during her Russian trial for drug smuggling.

Brittney Griner's extended Russian detainment is 'extremely concerning,' US government officials say



But for the most part, the powers that be were noticeably quiet about Griner.
Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner.


The relative silence from those closest to Griner was part of a "say less and push more privately behind the scenes" strategy meant to get her home as quickly as possible, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told Insider in March.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

Brittney Griner negotiation strategy is to 'say less and push more privately,' the WNBA commissioner says



By then, sources had confirmed that Griner was "OK" even though courts had denied her team's appeal for house arrest.
Brittney Griner in Russian court.
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner stands in a cage at a court room prior to a hearing in the Khimki district court, just outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, July 15, 2022.

Brittney Griner is 'OK' despite extended Russian detention and denied appeal for house arrest, source says



Russian state media reported that Griner had two English-speaking cellmates and that her only complaint was that her bed was too small to fit her 6-foot-9 frame.
Brittney Griner stands in a cage as a Russian official adjusts her handcuffs.
Brittney Griner stands in a cage as a Russian official adjusts her handcuffs.

Russia state media says Brittney Griner's only complaint in captivity is that the beds are too small



Right around then, the American public caught their first glimpses of Griner since she was detained.

 



And a few days after that — a full month after she was first taken into custody — a US embassy official received access to the WNBA star.
Brittney Griner.

A US embassy official was finally granted access to detained WNBA star Brittney Griner after over a month in Russian captivity



Meanwhile, Griner's USA Basketball teammates, who convened in Minnesota for a camp, told Insider they were "feeling her absence" in practice and in quiet moments.
A'ja Wilson at USA Basketball camp.

WNBA stars close to Brittney Griner say they're 'always feeling her absence' since her detainment in Russia



And as the 2022 WNBA season drew nearer, the entire Phoenix community — and the Mercury, in particular — was missing the star.
The Phoenix Mercury.
Phoenix Mercury players huddle up during the 2021 WNBA Finals.

Brittney Griner's absence could have sent the Mercury into retrograde. Instead, big off-season additions have kept Phoenix a WNBA title favorite



By early May, the Biden administration broke its silence on Griner's plight; the US government officially classified her as "wrongfully detained."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The US now considers Brittney Griner 'wrongfully detained' by Russia, and experts say it could be a good sign for her release



An expert who has navigated several hostage situations told Insider that the move sent a "strong signal that the US government does not believe that there is a legitimate case against her."
Brittney Griner.
Brittney Griner.


The change in designation came just days after Russia freed ex-Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap, on April 27 — another encouraging sign that the Kremlin might negotiate for Griner, too.
Trevor Reed
US ex-marine Trevor Reed, charged with attacking police, stands inside a defendants' cage during his verdict hearing at Moscow's Golovinsky district court on July 30, 2020.

Russia frees Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for convicted drug smuggler in prison swap with the US



And the Biden administration's shift in strategy allowed those closest to Griner to speak more freely about her situation.
Sue Bird (right) stands alongside Cherelle Griner during a press conference.
Sue Bird (right) stands alongside Cherelle Griner during a press conference.

Brittney Griner's sister breaks silence on 'totally gut-wrenching' reality of WNBA star's detainment in Russia



Her wife participated in a series of TV interviews — and Griner managed to send her flowers from prison ahead of the emotionally draining day.
Cherelle Griner
Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, during an interview.

Brittney Griner sent her wife flowers from Russian jail ahead of a tough day of media interviews



And her agent — Wasserman's Lindsay Kagawa-Colas — called on the US government to do "whatever it takes" to bring Griner home.
Brittney Griner (left) shoots over fellow WNBA All-Star A'ja Wilson.
Brittney Griner (left) shoots over fellow WNBA All-Star A'ja Wilson.

Brittney Griner's agent calls on Biden and Harris to 'do whatever it takes' to free the WNBA star from Russian captivity



In mid-May, Russia extended Griner's detention by a month.
Brittney Griner court appearance in Russia
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 27, 2022.

Russia extends the detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner as she keeps her head down in rare court appearance



And sources told Insider they were concerned Griner could spend months, even years, in custody without her case going to trial.
Brittney Griner
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner stands behind bars in a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.

Brittney Griner will be held in Russia for another month — but one legal expert warns she may never get a trial



As many Americans began to publicly question why the US government would work towards Griner's release, one expert warned against taking Russia's word at face value, as the country "does not have rule of law."
Brittney Griner.

A misconception about the Russian legal system may have skewed public perception of Brittney Griner's detainment



In mid-June, the Russian government once again extended Griner's detention without scheduling her trial.
Brittney Griner being led by Russian officers at pre-trial hearing.
Griner appears at a pre-trial hearing.

Brittney Griner's imprisonment has been extended again — and experts say her hearing 'will never happen'



Given her several appearances in court, despite an apparent lack of progress in her case, some informed observers in the States expressed concern that the Russians were merely parading Griner for the cameras.
Brittney Griner.

Russia is parading WNBA star Brittney Griner for cameras in 'an attempt to troll' US, expert says



Later in the month, Griner's long-awaited phone call with her wife was bungled by a State Department "logistical error."
Cherelle Griner.

Brittney Griner's long-awaited phone call with her wife was bungled by a State Department 'logistical error'



Griner expressed terror in letters to her wife, who hoped to truly gauge how the star was doing by hearing her voice.
Brittney Griner in cage outside of Russian trial
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner holds images standing in a cage at a court room prior to a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 26, 2022.

Brittney Griner's wife describes letters from Russian prison, says the WNBA star is acting tough but is really 'struggling' and 'terrified'



Finally, after more than four months in Russian custody, Griner was told her trial would start at the beginning of July.
Brittney Griner.

Detained WNBA star Brittney Griner's trial on drug smuggling charges is about to begin in Russia



But given Russia's greater than 99% conviction rate, experts told Insider they suspected Griner's hearings would be a "show trial" with a "predetermined" outcome.
Brittney Griner.

WNBA star Brittney Griner Russia hearings will be a 'show trial' with a 'predetermined' outcome, experts warn



Meanwhile, on the eve of Griner's trial, rumblings of a potential prisoner exchange involving the eight-time WNBA All-Star began to surface.
Brittney Griner.


Russian news sources reported as early as May that Griner could be involved in a swap for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Viktor Bout.
Viktor Bout.

Basketball star Brittney Griner could be brought home in a prisoner swap with a notorious arms dealer dubbed the 'Merchant of Death,' Russian media says



But in July, sources on the US side began to discuss trading Bout — who had served roughly half of a 25-year sentence — for both Griner and fellow detained American Paul Whelan.
American detainee Paul Whelan holds a sign ahead of a hearing in Moscow.
American detainee Paul Whelan holds a sign ahead of a hearing in Moscow.

Brittney Griner's freedom could hinge on an unorthodox prisoner exchange involving an ex-US Marine and a notorious Russian arms dealer



Experts in the space — including Bout's sentencing judge — analyzed the potential deal's intricacies and potential repercussions.
DEA agents escort Viktor Bout (center) off the plane after he was extradited to the United States.
DEA agents escort Bout (center) off the plane after he was extradited to the United States.


On July 4, just after her trial began, Griner penned a letter to President Joe Biden in an appeal to secure her freedom.
Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks during a Fourth of July celebration for military families on the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2022.

Brittney Griner's letter to President Biden 'won't change a thing' without more public pressure, expert says



The note seemingly pushed Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to finally speak with Cherelle.
Cherelle Griner.

Biden calls Brittney Griner's wife to reassure her that he's doing everything he can to free the WNBA star



Biden told Cherelle he was writing a letter back to Griner, an update she took as reassurance that the president had "not forgotten her."
Brittney Griner.

Brittney Griner's wife says Biden wrote a response to the WNBA star's letter: 'He has not forgotten her'



On July 7, a day after her wife's call with the president, Griner pleaded guilty to the charges brought against her.
Brittney Griner.

Brittney Griner pleads guilty in Russian drug case



But the guilty plea may very well have been a strategic move from Griner and her defense team, sources explained to Insider.
Brittney Griner.

Griner's guilty plea might actually help get her home



In subsequent court appearances, it became clear that Griner's camp was appealing to the judge in hopes to receive a lenient sentence.
Brittney Griner.


Griner testified that she unintentionally brought vape cartridges with her to Russia; she was packing quickly and did not realize she left the drugs in her bag.
Brittney Griner.


And the cannabis, her defense team insisted, was prescribed by an Arizona doctor to treat Griner's basketball-related joint pain.
Brittney Griner.
Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner (42) elbows Chicago Sky's Stevanie Dolson (31) during the second half in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Chicago.

Brittney Griner's lawyers say the WNBA star had a marijuana prescription from an Arizona doctor



Still, experts who spoke with Insider were skeptical Russia would show the American star any mercy.
Brittney Griner and A'ja Wilson celebrate winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
Griner (right) and Wilson celebrate winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

Brittney Griner's damning testimony won't impact the verdict of her Russian drug smuggling trial, legal analyst says



A prisoner swap, they said, was still the Olympian's most likely path home.
Brittney Griner high fives her Phoenix Mercury teammates.
Brittney Griner high fives her Phoenix Mercury teammates.


And the Biden administration finally seemed to acknowledge that likelihood as well, as John Kirby — the Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council — said the White House was interested in "government-to-government contact" with Russia regarding Griner's release.
John Kirby.
John Kirby, the White House's National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications.

John Kirby says the Biden administration is interested in 'government-to-government contact' with Russia regarding Brittney Griner's release



Two weeks later, CNN broke the news that the US had offered Russia the aforementioned prisoner exchange — Bout for Griner and Whelan — sometime in June.
Viktor Bout.
Bout.

Biden administration reportedly offered convicted arms trafficker in exchange for the release of Brittney Griner and another American detained in Russia



But as July turned to August, Russia made what Kirby called a "bad faith" counteroffer involving a convicted murderer who was tried, sentenced, and imprisoned in Germany.
John Kirby.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon on February 14, 2022.

The White House slammed Russia for its 'bad faith' counteroffer to the US' Brittney Griner prisoner swap proposal



And as the Kremlin fired back that "loudspeaker diplomacy" wouldn't succeed in bringing the detained Americans home, it appeared the US and Russia were still quite far from agreeing to a deal.
Brittney Griner.

The Kremlin wants prisoner-swap negotiations with the US to be 'discreet,' warning that 'loudspeaker diplomacy' won't work to free Griner and Whelan



Throughout the State Department's behind-the-scenes dealings, Griner's support back home in the States had only grown louder.
Fans hold signs to support Brittney Griner.


Fans have rallied for Griner's return.
Fans rally for Brittney Griner's return.


And at the ESPY Awards, stars like Stephen Curry, Megan Rapinoe, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Nneka Ogwumike used the platform to bring attention to Griner's case.
Steph Curry, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Nneka Ogwumike.

Steph Curry and Megan Rapinoe call for Brittney Griner's release from Russian detainment at the ESPYS: 'She's one of us'



Rapinoe also wore Griner's initials on her lapel while accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Megan Rapinoe receives her Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Megan Rapinoe receives her Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Megan Rapinoe used a not-so-hidden message to urge President Joe Biden to help bring Brittney Griner home



All 22 WNBA All-Stars wore Griner's name and number on their jerseys during the second half of the 2022 All-Star Game.
Team Wilson's Brionna Jones (left) shoots against Team Stewart's Skylar Diggins-Smith as both players wear Brittney Griner's name and number on their WNBA All-Star jerseys.
Team Wilson's Brionna Jones (left) shoots against Team Stewart's Skylar Diggins-Smith as both players wear Brittney Griner's name and number on their WNBA All-Star jerseys.

Brittney Griner's name and number were featured on all players jerseys during the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game



While sitting in a jail cell halfway across the globe, Griner was able to see a photo of the players honoring her at the All-Star Game.
Brittney Griner.

Brittney Griner's detainment in Russia is 'hard for all of us,' WNBA All-Stars, league commissioner say



Even LeBron James questioned why the government hadn't acted faster on Griner's behalf.
LeBron James holds up his hand during a game in 2022.
LeBron James.

LeBron James questions why Brittney Griner would 'want to go back to America' after slow response from US government



And Reed, the American detainee freed from Russia in April, said the Biden administration should be doing more.
U.S. ex-Marine Trevor Reed, who was detained in 2019 and accused of assaulting police officers, stands inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia March 11, 2020.
U.S. ex-Marine Trevor Reed, who was detained in 2019 and accused of assaulting police officers, stands inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia March 11, 2020.

Biden is 'not doing enough' to free Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, former Russian detainee Trevor Reed says



There was even a mural of Griner and other American hostages painted on a wall in Washington, DC.
Brittney Griner mural.


All the while, Griner's trial was drawing to a close outside of Moscow.
Brittney Griner.


And while the superstar was "nervous" in the days before she was expected to receive a verdict, she said via her legal team that she "really appreciates all the support she's getting."
Brittney Griner.

Brittney Griner is 'quite nervous' as the end of her Russian drug smuggling trial nears, her lawyer says



Griner and her defense lawyers continued to express optimism that the judge would grant her leniency, even as she faced up to 10 years in prison.
Brittney Griner.



Read the original article on Insider