Not sticking to sports nets a big win for WNBA star Maya Moore

Shalise Manza YoungYahoo Sports Columnist
Yahoo Sports

A little more than a year ago, Maya Moore, one of the most successful basketball players in history, announced she was taking a hiatus from the WNBA.

Just 30 years old at the time and coming off her sixth All-Star appearance after eight years in the league, her reasons for doing so were extraordinary: Moore cited a desire to focus on her faith, her family, and the case of one man, Jonathan Irons, whom she and others believe has been wrongfully imprisoned for decades.

On Monday, Irons and Moore got a big win.

Initial conviction overturned

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/wnba/teams/min" data-ylk="slk:Minnesota Lynx">Minnesota Lynx</a> star Maya Moore, who took a hiatus from the WNBA in part to help get justice for a friend, saw a win in that case on Monday. (AP/Jessica Hill)
Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore, who took a hiatus from the WNBA in part to help get justice for a friend, saw a win in that case on Monday. (AP/Jessica Hill)

At a hearing in her native Jefferson City, Mo., Cole County Judge Daniel Green granted Irons’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus, vacating his convictions for burglary and assault tied to a 1997 incident.

In a courthouse hallway, Moore called Irons and broke the news. Surrounded by other supporters, she put him on speakerphone and they all cheered. Moore has known Irons for over a decade.

Now 39 years old, Irons has served 22 years of a 50-year sentence, but he was convicted under highly dubious circumstances. He was tried as an adult despite being a 16-year-old. There were no witnesses, fingerprints, footprints or DNA that tied Irons to the burglary and assault of a St. Louis homeowner, but an all-white jury found the black defendant guilty.

“This day has been a long time coming,” Moore told ESPN following the hearing. “We are just so grateful and thankful to God and to everybody who has played a role in bringing justice.”

Under Green’s order, Irons could be discharged from custody unless the St. Charles County prosecutor’s office elects to retry Irons on the charges; the county has 30 days to make that decision. The office of the Missouri attorney general argued to keep Irons in prison and could decide to appeal the decision.

“It's a very good day,” Irons' attorney Kent Gipson said. “But it's not quite over yet.”

According to court records, Irons was seen with a gun in the suburb of O’Fallon on the night of Jan. 14, 1997. An impoverished teenager, he was selling marijuana at the time.

The victim in the case came home and confronted a burglar, during which shots were fired and the victim was hit in the right temple. He survived his injuries. A week later, Irons was arrested but he says he had no idea what he was being charged with until his first court appearance.

At an October hearing, Irons’ defense team called multiple witnesses, including an independent investigator and eyewitness identification expert who said they had examined records and that there was no physical evidence linking Irons to the crime. They also argued that the detective in the case tried to force Irons into a confession and never read him his rights. That detective wasn’t able to take the stand in Irons’ trial over 20 years ago because of illness and has since died.

Irons also took the stand in his own defense, with Moore in the courtroom to support him.

Change of heart coming?

On Monday morning, Moore tweeted two Bible verses; the second, from Amos 5:24, was “Let Justice roll like a river today.”

She announced in January that she’d be sitting out the 2020 season and removed her name from consideration for the Tokyo Olympics, but with the decision on Monday, could Moore change her mind and return to the Lynx? Fans in Minnesota are certainly hopeful that she might.

“Basketball has not been foremost in my mind. I've been able to rest and connect with people around me, actually be in their presence after all of these years on the road,” Moore told The New York Times in January. “And I've been able to be there for Jonathan.”

Moore’s hiatus truly is incredible: she walked away from the game with years still to play well, with two Olympic gold medals, five first-team All-WNBA nods, four league championships and myriad other awards on her resume, for purely unselfish reasons.

After Monday, it appears it may have all been worth it.

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