Maya Moore’s quest to see Jonathan Irons walk free from Missouri’s Jefferson City Correctional Center was realized on Wednesday.
Moore, who put her WNBA career with the Minnesota Lynx on hold in 2019 to help Irons have his conviction for burglary and assault with a weapon overturned, was among those who greeted Irons outside the prison. She clapped as Irons approached a group of people waiting for his release. She then dropped to her knees at one point before joining a group hug around Irons.
Moore posted video of the moment on Instagram.
“I feel like I can live life now,” Irons said on the video, thanking Moore and her family. “I’m free, I’m blessed, I just want to live my life worthy of God’s help and influence.”
Moore, who was born in Jefferson City, met Irons when she visited the correctional center before her freshman year at UConn after seeing her godfather, Reggie Williams, reviewing legal documents regarding Irons’ case, according to The New York Times.
“In that moment, I really felt like I could rest,” Moore said Thursday on “Good Morning America” about Irons’ release from prison. “I’d been standing, and we’d been standing, for so long; and it was an unplanned moment where I just felt relief. It was kind of a worshipful moment, just dropping to my knees and just being so thankful that we made it.”
Irons, 40, served 22 years of a 50-year sentence from 1998 following a conviction of burglary and assault with a weapon of a suburban St. Louis homeowner. The man testified that Irons was the person who assaulted him in his home, but Irons’ lawyers said there is no evidence (witness, fingerprints, footprints, DNA) to corroborate that their client committed the crime. Irons, a Black teen who was living in poverty, was 16 at the time of the incident but was tried as an adult, and the all-white jury found him guilty.
Judge Daniel Green granted Irons’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus in March, vacating his convictions for burglary and assault and ordering that he be released from maximum-security prison. The judge placed a stay on the order, allowing the state 15 days to request a review by the appellate court.
“My rest is gonna start now. I haven’t really been able to have the fullness of the rest that I wanted. And so I’m like, ‘OK guys, now is the time to take a break.’ So I’m looking forward to some rest and then seeing what the future holds, maybe around the same time next spring,” Moore said Thursday.
Irons also talked Thursday about what he’ll do now that he’s free.
“I want to rest, and get my legs up under me and be able to stand,” he said. “There’s a lot to adjust to out here, and I’m gonna take it slow.
“And I’m surrounded by people I know who love me and have my best interests in mind, and so I’m gonna listen to them, study and learn all I can. And when I get the time and the opportunity and the resources and the provision, I want to be able to reach back and help other people. I want to advocate for people who are less fortunate. I want to help people with their cases. I want to speak to positive change and be a part of the rebuilding process from where we’re at right now, because there’s so much greater coming on the horizon, and I see it — even in the darkness, I was able to see it — and I know we’re going. We shouldn’t give up; we should keep going.”
The New York Times reported that lawyers for Missouri’s attorney general had two appeals denied and the state’s Supreme Court wouldn’t take the case, leaving it up to Tim Lohmar, the lead prosecutor in St. Charles County, to decide whether the case should be retried. On Wednesday, Lohmar said there would not be a retrial, paving the way for Irons’ release.
Moore, 31, stepped away from professional basketball before last season and had said she wouldn’t play this year before the coronavirus pandemic delayed the WNBA season’s start. She also removed herself from consideration for the U.S. Olympic team, prior to the Olympics being postponed until 2021 because of the pandemic.
“Maya Moore got to celebrate another championship yesterday and none of us who have been blessed to have Maya in our lives are surprised,” Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said in a statement. “I cannot imagine, however, what this one must feel like. I was overwhelmed seeing Maya watch Jonathan Irons walk out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center a free man.”
“… I also can’t help but feel a great deal of anger. Maya Moore should never have had to leave her profession to engage in the fight against the two-tiered criminal justice system that over polices, wrongfully convicts, and over sentences black and brown communities. The criminal justice system in America is so far from fair and equal and it angers me that Maya has had to sacrifice so much to overcome this racially disparate system.”
Moore was the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. With Moore, the Lynx went to the WNBA Finals six times, winning the title four times. Last season, without her, the Lynx finished 18-16 and were the seventh seed in the postseason, losing to the Seattle Storm in the first round.
Moore was the WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2011, the league MVP in 2014 and a five-time All-Star. She has career averages of 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
ESPN’s Katie Barnes and The Associated Press contributed to this report.