Former New Mexico governor who helped free Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner dies

Sep 2, 2023, 2:00 PM

Bill Richardson...

Former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson speaks at the Conference on Iran on May 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who helped to free Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner, died Saturday.

Richardson, a Democrat, served as New Mexico’s governor for two terms before retiring. Before his 14-year service as a Congressman, he was a U.N. ambassador and the country’s energy secretary under President Bill Clinton. He even ran for president in 2008.

After leaving Congress, he stayed in the public eye as a high-profile hostage negotiator. His most recent accomplishment was in 2022, when he helped to arrange the prisoner swap between Russia and the U.S. that freed Griner in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Bill Richardson starred in many high-profile hostage negotiations

He also founded and led the Richardson Center for Global Engagement. The center said he died in his sleep on Saturday. The center’s vice president, Mickey Bergman, said Richardson lived his entire life serving others.

“There was no person that Gov. Richardson would not speak with if it held the promise of returning a person to freedom,” Bergman said in a statement.

Bergman had helped Richardson navigate months of backchannel negotiations prior to Griner’s release. After all their efforts, the seven-time WNBA All-Star walked free on Dec. 8, 2022.

This May, Griner played her first basketball game since her release. The Phoenix Mercury star had spent almost 10 months detained in Russia on drug-related charges.

Richardson’s hard work negotiating releases around the globe earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in August.

Bergman said he lost a mentor and dear friend and that he wasn’t the only one who would feel the loss.

“The world has lost a champion for those held unjustly abroad,” he said.

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Former New Mexico governor who helped free Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner dies