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WNBA's Maya Moore tearfully greets wrongfully convicted inmate who served 22 years for 1997 shooting

WNBA star Maya Moore was on hand Wednesday to see Jonathan Irons released from a Missouri prison 22 years after he was wrongfully convicted for burglary and assault, and 16 months after she put her basketball career on hold to push the courts to overturn his conviction.

Moore, 31, posted video on Instagram Wednesday, showing the 40-year-old Moore walking out of the Jefferson City, Missouri prison, where he was greeted by the former University of Connecticut star, her family, and other supporters, many of whom were weeping with joy.  

Moore dropped to her knees and appeared to be praying in the video before she and her family embraced the overwhelmed Irons, whom they met through a prison ministry program, according to the New York Times. 

‘I feel like I can live life now,’ Irons said on the video. ‘I’m free, I’m blessed, I just want to live my life worthy of God’s help and influence.’

Moore, a longtime advocate for prosecutorial reform, included a one-word caption with her video: ‘FREEDOM.’ 

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WNBA star Maya Moore (left) had been advocating for Jonathan Irons (right) to be released from a Missouri prison for over a decade, but decided to take a year off from basketball sho she could focus entirely on overturning his 1997 burglary and assault convictions

WNBA star Maya Moore (left) had been advocating for Jonathan Irons (right) to be released from a Missouri prison for over a decade, but decided to take a year off from basketball sho she could focus entirely on overturning his 1997 burglary and assault convictions 

WNBA star Maya Moore was on hand Wednesday to see Jonathan Irons released from a Missouri prison 22 years after he was wrongfully convicted for burglary and assault, and 16 months after she put her basketball career on hold to push the courts to overturn his conviction

Moore, 31, posted video on Instagram Wednesday, showing the 40-year-old Moore walking out of the Jefferson City, Missouri prison, where he was greeted by the former University of Connecticut star, her family, and other supporters, many of whom were weeping with joy

WNBA star Maya Moore (far left, near right) was on hand Wednesday to see Jonathan Irons (near left, far right) released from a Missouri prison 22 years after he was wrongfully convicted for burglary and assault, and 16 months after she put her basketball career on hold to push the courts to overturn his conviction. Moore, 31, posted video on Instagram Wednesday, showing the 40-year-old Moore walking out of the Jefferson City, Missouri prison, where he was greeted by the former University of Connecticut star, her family, and other supporters

Irons is hugged by Moore and her family

Moore dropped to her knees and appeared to be praying in the video before she and her family embraced the overwhelmed Irons, whom they met through a prison ministry program

Moore dropped to her knees and appeared to be praying in the video before she and her family embraced the overwhelmed Irons, whom they met through a prison ministry program

Irons was 18 in 1998 when he was sentence to 50 years in prison for the non-fatal shooting of Stanley Stotler, a 38-year-old St. Louis-area homeowner. Stotler testified that it was Irons who had shot him in 1997, but there was no other evidence linking the teenager to the crime.

Irons denied being present at the shooting.

Despite being 16 at the time of the shooting, Irons was still tried as an adult before being convicted by an all-white jury. 

According to Irons’s attorney Kent Gipson, Moore’s contributions were an essential part of the effort to overturn the two convictions.  

‘Until Maya Moore got involved, [Irons] just really didn’t have the resources to either hire counsel or hire investigators,’ Gipson told ESPN. ‘It’s big to sacrifice a year of your career in your prime to do that.’  

A native of Jefferson City, Moore became involved with the case during her time at UConn, when she visited the correctional center with her godfather, Reggie Williams, who had been investigating the crime in his spare time. 

In March, Cole County Judge Dan Green overturned the conviction, citing several issues with the investigations. It was Williams who had discovered the fingerprint evidence in the case files.

Green specifically referenced a finger print report that was never turned over to Irons’s defense team, which belonged to neither Green nor the victim.

As Green explained in his decision, that report would have given Irons’s attorneys ‘unassailable forensic evidence’ to support his innocence.

With Moore and her family on hand, Green granted the petition for a writ of habeas corpus, while ordering a 15-day stay to give an appellate court a chance to review the case.

The Missouri attorney general’s office submitted two appeals, both of which were denied by the state Supreme Court, and the St. Charles County lead prosector Tim Lohmar ultimately decided to retire the case, paving the way for Irons’s release.

‘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.’

While Moore’s latest mission may have been a success, she is not in a rush to return to basketball.

In January Moore said she planned to sit out the 2020 season and the Tokyo Olympics to continue advocating for social justice.

‘My decision to take another year was bigger than this case,’ she told the Associated Press in March. ‘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.’

Speaking with ABC’s Good morning America on Thursday morning, Irons said he spent his first free night in 22 years eating pizza with friends and family.

Irons also described Stotler as a ‘victim,’ saying that he does not blame him for serving 22 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.

In fact, Irons explained, Stotler was victimized twice.

‘Once by whoever broke into his house and shot him,’ Irons said. ‘And two, by whoever is responsible for manipulating him and coaching him to identify me.

‘I believe at some point, if not already, maybe later on, he’s going to be hit with a lot of guilt. And I want to let him know, that he has a safe place to rest. I do forgive him. I don’t blame him or fault him in any way.’

Moore is a four-time WNBA champion and former league MVP who also has six All-Star appearances and the 2011 Rookie of the Year award to her name. She also won two national titles while playing for the Connecticut Huskies.    

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