NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Brittney Griner
A Russian court upheld Brittney Griner‘s nine-year sentence on drug smuggling charges Tuesday, despite attorneys for the 32-year-old WNBA star arguing against her lengthy sentence in front of a three-judge appeal panel.
Griner’s attorneys, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, expressed their disappointment with the ruling in a statement shared with PEOPLE.
“It is not what we expected,” their statement read. “We are very disappointed. The verdict contains numerous defects and we hoped that the court of appeal would take them into consideration. We still think the punishment is excessive and contradicts to the existing court practice.”
Blagovolina and Boykov said Griner’s “biggest fear” is that she will have to serve the entirety of her sentence unless Russia and the United States come to an agreement on a prisoner exchange.
“She had hopes for today as each month, each day away from her family and friends matters to her,” they said.
In August, a U.S. official told PEOPLE the Biden Administration had made a “substantial offer” to Russia in their efforts to bring Griner back home. Citing sources, CNN reported that the White House offered to exchange Griner and Paul Whelan, another American prisoner, for a Russian prisoner in the United States, Viktor Bout, who was convicted of arms trafficking and is currently serving 25 years.
Blagovolina and Boykov said appealing the court’s decision was a possibility but they would have to discuss the option with Griner.
“We generally think that we must use all the available legal tools especially given the harsh and unprecedented nature of her sentence,” Blagovolina and Boykov explained.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert also shared a statement with PEOPLE following Tuesday’s ruling.
“Today’s decision while unfortunate, was not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained,” she said. “We greatly appreciate the ongoing efforts of the Administration and U.S. Department of State in leading the negotiations. It is time to bring this case to an end and bring BG home.”
Griner’s agent Lindsay Colas called the Russian court’s decision “disappointing, yet unsurprising,” in a statement shared with PEOPLE and posted on Twitter.
“Brittney Griner’s nine-plus year sentence is regarded as harsh and extreme by Russian legal standards,” Colas wrote. “Today’s disappointing, yet unsurprising, appeal outcome further validates the fact that she is being held hostage and is being used as a political pawn. Brittney Griner is being held by Russia simply because she is an American.”
She continued: “We call on all people, fellow Americans, along with the global sports community, to unite in their support for BG and President Biden’s efforts to do what is necessary to rescue her. We must support the use of all available tools to secure the safe return of BG and all Americans – with urgency.”
Colas also thanked President Joe Biden and the Phoenix Mercury star’s supporters. “We are thankful to the Administration and to all efforts, including humanitarian, sports, faith-based, and other individuals who take the time to advocate for BG’s return. Each day matters, and we are thankful for every effort to ensure not one more day passes without her home.”
“I’m like, in no world did I ever thought, you know, our president and a foreign nation’s president would be sitting down having to discuss the freedom of my wife,” Cherelle told King in her first interview since Griner’s sentencing. “And so to me, as much as everybody’s telling me a different definition of what BG is, it feels to me as if she’s a hostage.”
EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Brittney Griner holds up a photo of her teammates while in court
“It terrifies me, because when you watch movies, sometimes those situations don’t end well,” Cherelle added. “Sometimes they never get their person back.”
Cherelle and King both emphasized in the interview that, unlike a high-stakes political drama, Brittney’s situation is all too real.
“Exactly, this is my life, and so I’m sitting there like, ‘Do we get her back? Do I ever get to see my wife again? Like, what happens [next]?’ ” she told CBS Mornings.