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 greeting 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.
Irons, 40, served 22 years of a 50-year sentence that he was handed in 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.
“This day has been a long time coming,” Moore said in March. “We are just so grateful and thankful to God and to everybody who has played a role in bringing justice.”
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’d also removed herself from consideration for the U.S. Olympic team, prior to the Olympics being postponed until 2021 because of the pandemic.
After Irons’ convictions were thrown out in March, Moore told The Associated Press her plans to sit out the season hadn’t changed.
“My decision to take another year was bigger than this case,” Moore said at the time. “But obviously this case was in the forefront of my mind. I’m looking forward when this is done to finally getting some rest and time with my family.”
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 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.
Information from ESPN’s Katie Barnes and The Associated Press was used in this report.