Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore hasn’t played in the WNBA since 2018, but for good reason: she’s been dedicating herself to freeing a wrongly convicted man from prison.
Moore opted to sit out both the 2019 and 2020 seasons to help Jonathan Irons, a Black man who was convicted on burglary and assault charges when he was just 18, secure his release. Irons had served 23 years of a 50-year sentence for a crime he maintains he didn’t commit, after being convicted by an all white jury despite a complete lack of physical evidence and a questionable identification made by the victim.
A Missouri judge overturned Irons’ conviction on March 9, and after two failed appeals he was released on Wednesday. Moore and Irons joined Robin Roberts on Thursday’s “Good Morning America” to talk about Moore’s work, Irons’ release and what the future holds for both of them.
Moore thankful to see direct result of her work
Moore stood outside of Missouri’s Jefferson City Correctional Center on Wednesday to watch Irons leave prison and take his first steps as a free man in 23 years. She had helped raise money to hire a top defense attorney to represent Irons, and her work paid off. Moore fell to her knees before embracing Irons, and described her feelings in that moment.
“In that moment, I really felt that I could rest,” Moore told Roberts. “I’ve been standing, and we’ve been standing for so long. It was an unplanned moment when I just felt relief. It was kind of a worshipful moment, just dropping to my knees and being so thankful that we made it.”
Moore also discussed why she felt called to step away from the WNBA despite her incredible on-the-court success.
“When I stepped away two 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,” she said. “So this is obviously the biggest and most direct result of that.”
Irons forgives man who misidentified him
During Irons’ trial, he was identified in court by the victim of the burglary and assault. However, the victim hadn’t been able to identify Irons during the first police lineup, and only picked him when an officer asked him to make a guess.
This was one of the few pieces of “evidence” that led to Irons’ conviction, and it would be understandable for Irons to be angry at the man who helped put him away for more than 20 years. That’s not how he feels, though. Irons told Roberts that he forgives him.
“I believe at some point, if not already, maybe later on, he’s going to be hit with a lot of guilt,” Irons said. “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.”
Irons celebrated his first day out of prison with friends, family and pizza. He knows that many people worked to help get him to that point, and he wants to give back in the future.
“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 interest in mind. I’m going to listen to them, study and learn all I can, and when I get the time and opportunity and the resources and the provision, 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 part of the rebuilding process from where we’re at right now. There’s so much greater coming on the horizon and I see it, even in the darkness I was able to see it. We shouldn’t give up. We should keep going.”
Moore is also looking forward to taking some time to rest, but that’s the only thing she has planned for now.
“These last couple years I’ve really been trying to take it one season at a time,” Moore said. “And I know it’s horrible, we always want to know what’s happening next. As a basketball player you’re so scheduled and knowing what’s going to happen, but for the first time in my adult life I’m really just trying to live in the moment.
“Honestly, my rest is going to start now. I haven’t been able to have the fullness of the rest I wanted, so now I’m like ‘OK guys, it’s time to take a break.’ So I’m looking forward to some rest and then seeing what the future holds maybe around the same time next spring.”
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