On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, Jonathan Irons emerged from Jefferson City Correctional Center a free man. Irons, now 40 years old, spent the last 23 years of his life in this Maximum-security facility in the state of Missouri.
Irons was met with a small group of people that cheered, cried, and embraced him. Among the people waiting for him was longtime friend, WNBA Legend, and Criminal Rights Activist Maya Moore who fell to her knees in elation before joining Irons for a hug. And just like that, Moore was a champion once more; only this time, a champion for justice.
At the age of 16 Irons was tried and convicted as an adult. He was ultimately sentenced to 50-years by an all-white jury behind a non-fatal shooting/burglary that occurred in St. Louis; a crime he did not commit and was wrongfully convicted of. When Moore was an 18-year-old budding star basketball player at the University of Connecticut, a prison ministry program that her extended family was involved in connected her and Irons. It was then that she learned about his case and they maintained their friendship for 13 years. Over the course of their friendship Moore became invested in seeking justice for Irons.
Moore worked in tandem with his team of lawyers to seek justice on the behalf of Irons as it was clear that there were major holes in the case. Holes like there being no evidence of DNA, fingerprints, or blood at the scene that could connect Irons to the crime. Not to mention there weren’t any witnesses that could corroborate his presence at the crime scene either.
After a judge overturned his conviction in March, Moore shared the news with him over the phone. Irons could be heard over the phone’s speaker saying, “23 years of lies, I’m free.”
He went on to sing, “Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, I’m free. Hallelujah!”
Moore is a legendary basketball player. Her accolades include four WBNA Championships, two Olympic Gold Medals, two NCAA Titles, as well as being a WNBA All Star and MVP. It is not lost that at the absolute height of her career she stepped away from basketball to use her platform and voice for someone who had neither. “People don’t want to watch a fixed game; they want to watch a fair game and so that’s all we’re asking for. In our justice system let’s be fair. Let’s make it equal for every person to have the truth be shown and treated with respect and dignity.” Moore explained.
Moore talked about the moment when she first saw Irons exit the facility and why the case was so important to her on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts saying, “We’ve 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 being so thankful that we’d made it. When I stepped away 2 springs ago, I just really wanted to shift my priorities to be able to be more available and present to show up for things that I felt were mattering more than being a professional athlete and so this is obviously one of the biggest and most direct results of that.”
As far as the victim of the crime that Irons was wrongfully convicted of, Irons has already forgiven him and believes he, too, was a victim twice over. Irons explained in his interview on GMA to Roberts that, “[He was a victim] Once by whoever broke into his house and shot him and two by whoever is responsible for manipulating him and feeding him information and coaching him to identify me.”
He went on to say, “I believe at some point, if not already, maybe later on he’s going to be hit with a lot of guilt. I want to let him know that he has a safe place to rest because I do forgive him, I don’t blame him or fault him in any way.”
“This journey was deep,” Moore expressed in a telephone conference. “We were invested. Jonathan was invested. It was a deep-rooted experience.
“If you’re not committed to being deeply committed and invested over time, it’s not how legacies are made. Legacies are made and held by deep, over-time commitments to people.”
When Roberts asked Irons what was next for him now that he is free, he said, “I want to rest and get my legs up under me and be able to stand. There’s a lot to adjust to out here and I’m going to take it slow. I’m surrounded by people I know who love me and have my best interests in mind so I’m going to listen to them and study and learn all I can. When I get the time, the opportunity and the resources and the provisions 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 is so much greater coming in the horizon. I see it. Even in the darkness I was able to see it. We shouldn’t give up, we should keep going. I also right now in this moment want people to have hope from this story because we are in dark times and we gotta keep going we gotta keep the faith.”