It's been a long road for Brittney Griner.
The WNBA star, now 32, was detained in Russia on Feb. 17, 2022, for allegedly possessing cannabis oil in her luggage after arriving in Moscow from New York City. On Aug. 4, she was sentenced to nine years in prison following a weeks-long trial.
News broke on July 27 that the Biden administration had offered a prisoner swap with Russia to secure the release of both Griner and American prisoner Paul Whelan, with sources telling CNN that they had offered to return Viktor Bout, a Russian prisoner in the United States serving 25 years for arms trafficking.
On the morning of Dec. 8, 2022, Americans woke up to the surprise news of her release in a one-for-one in a one-for-one prisoner swap with Bout. "She's safe, she's on a plane, she's on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances," President Joe Biden said in remarks that same day.
Here, a look back a Griner's journey to freedom.
March 5, 2022: News of Brittney Griner's Detainment Breaks
In the WNBA off-season, the Phoenix Mercury star plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian basketball team based in the city of Yekaterinburg that competes in the Russian Premier League and FIBA Europe's EuroLeague Women.
PEOPLE reported that on Feb. 17, as she was on her way to join the team, Griner was stopped at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport after a customs dog indicated there were drugs in the player's carry-on bag. After officers searched the bag and found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, Griner was taken into Russian custody and charged with smuggling "narcotic drugs" into the country, where marijuana is illegal.
Seven days after Griner's arrest, Russia invade Ukraine, putting the country further at odds with the rest of the world.
March 7, 2022: Brittney Griner's Wife Speaks Out
As the WNBA and USA Basketball released statements, Griner's wife Cherelle spoke out for the first time, too, posting on Instagram, "We love you babe! People say 'stay busy.' Yet, there's not a task in this world that could keep any of us from wondering if you are safe. My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats every day that goes by without hearing from you. 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 8, 2022: Brittney Griner Is Seen for the First Time Since Her Arrest as Congress Works on Her Release
In a grainy image that appeared on Russian state TV, Griner held up a sign with her name on it following her arrest. Meanwhile, both Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) announced they were working with the State Department to bring the athlete home.
"I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it's also happening in the context of really strained relations," said Allred. "I do think that it's really unusual that we've not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services."
The House Foreign Affairs Committee member continued, "The Russian criminal justice system is very different than ours, very opaque. We don't have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now. But she's been held for three weeks now, and that's extremely concerning."
March 17, 2022: Brittney Griner's Detainment Is Extended
"The court granted the request of the investigation and extended the period of detention of the US citizen Griner until May 19," the Russian court said, per the outlets.
Video shared online via Russian news site Mash appeared to show the Phoenix Mercury star walking through a courthouse with two female officers by her side.
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images
March 23, 2022: U.S. Official Meets with Brittney Griner
One month after her detention, Griner met with a consular official who reported the athlete was doing "as well as can be expected," according to U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price. "We'll continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly and that her rights are respected."
Days earlier, a source told PEOPLE that Griner had been meeting with her Russian legal team "multiple times a week over the entire course of her detention."
May 13, 2022: Brittney Griner's Detainment Is Extended Again
Griner's detainment was again extended in May, though her lawyer Alexander Boykov told AP that the change likely meant her case would be heading to trial soon. The athlete appeared at a hearing on May 13, keeping her face down choosing not to express "any complaints about the detention conditions," Boykov told AP.
Around that same time, the U.S. State Department classified Griner's arrest as wrongful detainment, meaning the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs would begin overseeing the situation.
According to the Associated Press, the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs will now oversee Griner's case. That State Department office is focused on hostage release and the freeing of wrongfully detained Americans.
June 15, 2022: Brittney Griner's Detainment Is Extended for a Third Time — and a Trial Date Is Set
ABC News reported that Griner's detention was extended through July 2. Officials would be holding her longer at "the request of the investigation," per a rep for the Khimki Court of the Moscow Region, according to TASS.
Two weeks later, Griner's lawyer told the New York Times the trial would start on July 1.
In the meantime, fellow athletes including LeBron James, Megan Rapinoe, Stephen Curry, Charles Barkley and Sue Bird voiced love and support for the star's safe return, as the WNBA made her an honorary starter in the league's all-star game and the House passed a bipartisan resolution pushing Russia for her release.
Evgenia Novozhenina/AP/Shutterstock Brittney Griner is escorted into the courtroom Tuesday
July 1, 2022: Brittney Griner's Trial Begins
On day one of Griner's trial, which began more than four months after she was first detained, officials accused her of moving a "significant amount" of cannabis oil, according to Russian media. Prosecutors also questioned the customs agents who searched Griner's luggage.
On July 4, representatives for Griner released excerpts from a handwritten note she sent to President Joe Biden, pleading for her release.
"I'm terrified I might be here forever," she wrote in part. "I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don't forget about me and the other detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore."
"I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates!" she continued. "It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home."
As Griner's wife continued to speak out about the athlete's "complete vulnerability" and her own "zero trust" in the government's ability to get her home, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called Cherelle to "reassure her that [they] are working to secure Brittney's release as soon as possible," according to a statement from the White House. Biden also wrote a letter in reply to Griner.
RELATED: What to Know About Brittney Griner's Daily Life in a Russian Detention Center
July 7, 2022: Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty
The WNBA star said that she did bring cannabis products into the country, but that she was packing quickly and did not mean to break the law, saying she did so "inadvertently."
"I'd like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law," Griner, who pointedly held up a photo of herself and her wife Cherelle as she walked into court, said, according to Reuters. "I'd like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare."
In a statement from Griner's legal team, Maria Blagovolina from Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Alexander Boykov from Moscow Legal Center, shared with PEOPLE, they said her plea "was her decision informed by discussion with her legal defense team in Russia."
"Brittney sets an example of being brave. She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people," the statement continued.
In the U.S. that day, Griner's wife Cherelle and the star's Phoenix Mercury teammates held a "Bring BG Home" rally at the WNBA team's Footprint Center in Arizona.
YURI KOCHETKOV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Brittney Griner
July 14, 2022: Brittney Griner's Russian Basketball Teammates Testify on Her Behalf
At Griner's third hearing, members of UMMC Yekaterinburg spoke highly of Griner's contributions, according to The New York Times. The director of the team, Maksim Ryabkov, testified to Griner's "outstanding abilities as a player and personal contribution to the strengthening [of] the team's spirit," the basketball star's lawyer told the Times.
Along with Ryabkov, a team doctor and the team's captain, Evgeniya Belyakova, also testified, with Belyakova telling the court that Griner is "the heart of our team," according to NPR's Charles Maynes.
July 15, 2022: Brittney Griner's Lawyers Share Her Medical Records
Griner's lawyers told the court that she has a doctor's note recommending she use cannabis as a pain treatment.
"The attending physician gave Brittney recommendations for the use of medical cannabis. The permission was issued on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health," Griner's lawyer Blagovolina said during Griner's fourth hearing, the Associated Press reported.
The basketball star's defense team also submitted the results of anti-doping tests taken by Griner, which showed no signs of illegal substances in her system, the outlet added.
The next week, on July 26, the court heard from a narcology expert, The New York Times reported, per Griner's lawyers, in an effort to explain that medical cannabis "is a popular treatment, specifically among athletes."
However, Griner's lawyer continued to say she "involuntarily" brought the cannabis in her suitcase.
"We are not arguing that Brittney took it here as a medicine," her attorney Alexander Boykov said, adding, "The Russian public has to know, and the Russian court in the first place has to know, that it was not used for recreational purposes in the United States. It was prescribed by a doctor."
As Griner sat in a cage within the courtroom, she spoke to ABC News and wished wife Cherelle, who graduated from law school in May, good luck on the bar exam.
Griner told ABC News that she is "waiting patiently" while in custody but has "no complaints." During the hearing, she held up a sign that included a photograph of her and Cherelle.
July 27, 2022: Brittney Griner Speaks in Court
In another hearing, the WNBA star told the court that Russian officials did not read any rights to her when she was arrested at the Moscow airport for possession of cannabis oil in February, according to The Washington Post.
While Griner said a translator at the airport told her where to go, nobody explained to her what was happening, and she described the general translation services offered to her during her months-long detainment in Russia as "inadequate."
"I remember one time there was a stack of papers that [the translator] needed to translate for me. He took a brief look and then said the exact words were, 'Basically you are guilty,' " Griner testified.
During her testimony, the WNBA star told the court via a translator that she was aware she was not allowed to bring cannabis oil into the country and said she still does not "understand how they ended up in her bag."
"I had no intention to break the law," she said, adding that she was stressed and rushed while packing and was recovering from a then-recent COVID-19 diagnosis that required her to take a test before getting on a plane.
Griner also testified that upon her arrest, she did not receive access to a lawyer and was made to sign documents without being told what they meant, according to the Associated Press. Griner said that during a Feb. 19 hearing regarding her arrest, she received only a "cursory translation" of the allegations made against her, according to the AP.
Tim Clayton/Corbis/Getty; Ting Shen/Bloomberg/Getty
July 27, 2022: The Biden Administration Offers a 'Substantial' Deal to Russia in Exchange for Brittney Griner
Later on July 27, news broke that the Biden administration offered a "substantial" deal to Russia to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American prisoner, per Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Citing sources, CNN also reported that the White House offered to exchange Griner and Whelan for a Russian prisoner in the United States, Viktor Bout, who was convicted for arms trafficking and is currently serving 25 years.
Sources told CNN that this plan to swap prisoners was backed by President Joe Biden after being under discussion earlier in the year. With Biden's support, the plan overrides the Department of Justice, which holds a firm stance against prisoner trades.
Blinken said that the White House had been in negotiations with Russia on the potential exchange for weeks, and that he intended to discuss the matter further on a call with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the coming days.
Aug. 4, 2022: Brittney Griner Is Sentenced to 9 Years in Prison
As her trial ended, Griner was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison, on charges of smuggling drugs into the country.
Griner's lawyers said the verdict, just below the maximum sentence of 10 years, "absolutely unreasonable" and said they will "certainly file an appeal," The New York Times reported.
A Russian judge read Griner, 31, her verdict Thursday about an hour after her lawyers and the prosecution presented their closing arguments. The Phoenix Mercury star had given an emotional speech, reiterating her stance that though she pled guilty to bringing less than 1 gram of cannabis oil into Russia, she did so "inadvertently" and asked the court for leniency.
"That's why I pled guilty to my charges. I understand everything that's been said against me, the charges that are against me and that is why I pled guilty but I had no intents to break any Russian laws," Griner said, according to CNN.
In a statement shared with PEOPLE, President Joe Biden said the ruling was "unacceptable."
Aug. 15, 2022: Brittney Griner's Lawyers Appeal Prison Sentence
While the team didn't know if the appeal would be successful, Blagovolina previously told PEOPLE, she said they had to try.
"We need to use every legal opportunity that we have, and appeal is one of these opportunities," Blagovolina said.
Griner's other lawyer, Alexander Boykov, explained that the process will also take several months: "It's not very fast."
Oct. 25, 2022: Brittney Griner Loses Appeal to Reduce Prison Sentence
Just over one month after Griner's lawyers confirmed to PEOPLE that an appeal had been filed against the nine-year prison sentence, news broke that the appeal had been denied.
Despite her attorneys arguing against her lengthy sentence in front of a three-judge appeal panel, a Russian court upheld the decision. Griner also participated in the appeal proceedings via video.
Nov. 17, 2022: Brittney Griner's Lawyers Confirm She Has Been Moved to a Russian Penal Colony
Griner's lawyers confirmed that she had been moved to IK-2 female penal colony in Yavas, a small town about seven hours from Moscow, in the Mordovia region.
"Brittney is doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment," her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a statement shared with PEOPLE at the time.
Former prisoners and human rights activists said the particular penal colony where she was placed was notorious for its brutal treatment of female inmates.
Ivan Melnikov, the Russian representative of the European Committee of Human Rights, told PEOPLE at the time that he was surprised that of all the 36 women colonies in Russia, Griner was sent to Moldavia. "No [convicts] want to be sent there. It is not a good place."
Dec. 8, 2022: Brittney Griner Is Released and Returned Home
After spending nearly 10 months in Russian custody, Griner was released in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout, CBS News reported, citing a U.S. official.
"Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," Biden tweeted the morning of the announcement alongside photographs of himself, Vice President Kamala Harris and Griner's wife, Cherelle.
The exchange agreement between Griner and Bout was recently negotiated with Moscow and was given final approval by Biden a week prior to her release, five former U.S. officials told CBS News.