WNBA star Maya Moore is a force to be reckoned with on and off the court. After announcing she would miss a second consecutive season to focus on her passion for criminal justice reform, her hard work has paid off.
On Wednesday, Jonathan Irons, a 40-year-old Black man, walked free after the court reversed his 50-year prison bid. Irons was sentenced to prison by an all-white jury at the tender age of 18, despite his youth, and spent more than two decades in the system for allegedly breaking into a residence and shooting the white homeowner, Stanley Stotler. He took the advice of his public defender and did not testify, and there was no physical evidence or witness testimony that linked him to the incident.
“I feel like I can live life now,” Irons said. “I’m free, I’m blessed, I just want to live my life worthy of God’s help and influence.” He added: “I thank everybody who supported me — Maya and her family.”
According to Complex, authorities claim Irons, who was 16 years old at the time, admitted to the crime. Stotler, who was shot in the arm and temple, was unable to pick out a suspect in a lineup of photos when he was instructed to give his best guess, he picked Irons and another African American man. In March, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green vacated the 1998 conviction after hearing testimony and Irons’ pleads of innocence.
Green cited a long list of problems that took place during the investigation period. He argued that the original prosecutors withheld evidence favorable to Irons’s innocence, including a fingerprint report that found an unidentified fingerprint inside a door of the home.
Irons’s defense team said the “unassailable forensic evidence” would have supported their plea of not guilty had it been turned over. Green wrote that Irons’ case was “very weak and circumstantial at best.”
However, Moore, 31, was steadfast on pushing for Irons’s freedom by putting her own stellar career to the side to focus and fight. The Minnesota Lynx Player, family, and supporters cheerfully embraced Irons as he exited the Jefferson Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison ironically located on No More Victims Road. Fortunately, Irons will no longer be a victim of a failed system.
Moore’s family and Irons met through a prison ministry. In 2007 Moore visited Irons during a penitentiary visit before her first year at the University of Connecticut. The two formed a sibling-like bond during her years of heralding in women’s basketball. It wasn’t until 2016 that she publicly came forward about their friendship and advocating for criminal justice reform.
Now, Thanks to her and other supporters, Irons was able to walk free.
Irons, who is a religious man and educated himself during his incarceration, would have been eligible for parole when he turned 60. But he says he would not have accepted it because it would make him admit to something he didn’t do. As for the victim, Irons said, “I would extend my hand in peace to him. I want to dialogue with him. If he wanted to go for dinner, I would start there.”
In the wake of Irons release, Moore says she has no intention to return to basketball anytime soon. Hopefully, she will continue helping reverse the damages of a broken system.