Cherelle Griner said her wife, WNBA star Brittney Griner, is being held "hostage" in her first interview since a Russian court sentenced the basketball player to nine years in prison for drug possession in August.
"On its face it just seems like my wife is a hostage," Cherelle Griner told "CBS Mornings” co-host Gayle King. "To know that our government and the foreign government is sitting down and negotiating for her release? She’s a hostage."
The interview comes less than three weeks before a Russian court will hear Brittney Griner's appeal of her nine-year prison sentence, which Russian forces handed down after allegedly finding her in a Moscow airport with cannabis-derived vape cartridges in February.
Griner's defense argued that she used the cannabis to treat injuries. Medical marijuana is illegal in Russia.
Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star, had been in Russia to play with a Russian Premier League women's team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, which she had done since 2014 — a common practice for WNBA players, who can earn four to five times their salaries in the U.S.
Cherelle Griner, who has a legal degree, told King that she believes "a crime should warrant a punishment," but that "it must be balanced."
"It tears me to pieces to see that this is not balanced for my wife right now," she said.
Cherelle said that he had spoken to Brittney twice by phone while she has been detained, describing the more recent call as "the most disturbing phone call I'd ever experienced."
"You could hear that she was not OK," Cherelle said of Brittney, adding that her wife spent 30 seconds to two minutes on the call crying.
"If you think about just a person suffering, and when they have suffered to a max, like you could hear that, like, she was at the max that day," she added.
On that call, Cherelle said, she didn't know if Brittney "has anything left in her tank to continue to wake up every day and be in a place where she has no one."
Cherelle said she cried for two to three days after the call and barely got out of bed.
Ahead of her Oct. 25 hearing, Cherelle said Brittney is "at her absolute weakest moment in life now."
"She’s very afraid about being left and forgotten in Russia or just completely used to the point of her detriment, because she’s like, you know, saying things to me like, 'my life just don’t even matter no more,'" she told King.
“The reality of the situation is that once that hearing is held and the order is finalized, [she's] now in the position where she could be moved to a labor camp. And, I — my brain can’t even fathom it," Cherelle added.
She told King that she believes President Joe Biden, who has spoken to Cherelle by phone and in person, is "doing what he can" to secure her wife's release, but that she believes doing so would ultimately require the cooperation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I feel like at this point it’s going to take Putin to have that same mindset and say, 'You know what? Brittney Griner, who came to my country for seven, eight years, and helped my country be recognized through sport, paid taxes in my country, helped my country. I’m going to sit at a table, and I’m going to be clear about what I need in return for her release so that we can actually get a meeting of the minds between these two governments,'" she said.
In July, NBC News reported that the U.S. had offered to exchange Griner and and another American detained by Russia, Paul Whelan, for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who has been serving a 25-year prison sentence. In August, after Griner’s sentencing, Russia said it was ready to discuss the possibility of a swap, but U.S. officials have said the Russians have yet to come up with a serious counteroffer.