Early this year, WNBA champion Maya Moore announced she was taking a sabbatical from basketball for the second season in a row to help have the conviction of a Missouri prisoner, who is serving a 50-year sentence for burglary and assault overturned.
After several appeal hearings, Jonathan Irons’ conviction was finally overturned by a state judge on Monday, The New York Times reports. Irons, 40, was convicted when he was 16 and tried as an adult. He has so far served 23 years of the 50-year sentence.
“It felt so surreal,” Moore, who spent eight seasons with the Minnesota Lynx said. “We finally have justice. I was just thinking, ‘Did this really happen? Did it?’”
Irons, however, is not a free man yet, as the Missouri attorney general’s office and St. Charles County prosecutors have 45 days to decide to either appeal the judge’s decision or retry Irons, The New York Times further reports. Irons’ lawyer will, however, request for him to be released on bond during that period. The Missouri attorney general’s office is yet to comment on the judgement.
Arguably one of the most talented and most decorated female basketball players of all time, Moore’s announcement of taking a sabbatical from the game last year was widely received with shock. A four-time WNBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medal winner with the United States national basketball team, her sabbatical also ruled her out for selection for this year’s games.
Moore, who revealed her reason for taking time off basketball, was to advocate for criminal justice reform as well as for the release of Irons.
“It is so sweet to see the redemption that came from stepping away and giving what I had to this case,” she said. “It feels like we are holding up that Final Four trophy, but there are still a couple of steps.”
Moore, 30, met Irons at the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri during a visit in 2017. At the age of 16, he was sentenced to 50 years behind bars on burglary and assault charges for attacking a homeowner with a gun in St. Louis. During the incident, the homeowner was reportedly shot in the head.
Despite the unavailability of witnesses, fingerprints, footprints, DNA or blood evidence to link Irons to the scene of the crime, he was found guilty by an all-white jury after the homeowner identified him as the suspect. He was also tried as an adult albeit a juvenile.
According to prosecutors, Irons confessed to breaking into the home during an interrogation with a police officer. Irons and his lawyers, however, vehemently denied those claims, The New York Times further reports. The officer who interrogated Irons did not also record the session, which was between just the two of them with no witnesses around.
Moore, who got drawn by Irons’ story and have since become close friends decided to support him in whichever way she could.
“She saved my life. I would not have this chance if not for her and her wonderful family. She saved my life and I cannot say it better than that,” Irons, who is still in prison, told The New York Times after his conviction was overturned.
“It feels like I can just breathe, like the weight of the world is off of me, like I have the chance to live.”