DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The family of WNBA star Brittney Griner is breathing a sigh of relief after she was released from a Russian prison. Her wife, Cherelle Griner, graduated from North Carolina Central University in May and admitted the past nine months have been some of the darkest moments of her life.
On Thursday, people on the streets of downtown Durham reacted to the news of Griner's release.
"I was thinking if she was here, they would have gave her a fine and everybody would have moved on. I thought the punishment was pretty harsh," said Julius Rhoe, a Durham native and NCCU alum.
President Joe Biden stated it's been an intense nine months of negotiations with the Russian government leading to a prisoner exchange between Griner and Viktor Bout, a 55-year-old convicted Russian arms dealer who has been in U.S. custody for 14 years.
"So we're releasing this guy after 14 years in prison for something pretty severe and we're swapping for her who just got caught with marijuana. To me, they're not on the same playing field," said Eric Beu, who thinks the U.S. should have negotiated for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine who is also being held in a Russian prison.
Legal experts said Griner's status as somewhat of a celebrity is likely what put pressure on officials to bring her home.
"That was something that added to political import of the president's push to get her released and returned to the U.S. Then you're in a situation where it's a take it or leave it where Russians say it's going to be Griner or no one," said NCCU Law professor Irving Joyner.
Chazle Woodley said she was a law student at NCCU along side Cherelle Griner, and describes her as someone with a great personality.
"She was very focused on getting Britney back, focused on what was going on and overwhelmed most of the time." she said.
After Brittney was jailed, Chazle said Cherelle's demeanor changed a lot, and she became much more quiet and focused
"My concern was always being a genuine friend to her and even Britney came to do a presentation on sports and entertainment law and it was great," she said. "There were times where it looked really bleak and that's what she kept telling me. There was so many ups and downs to this situation like a rollercoaster I'm just happy for her and her family."