A Journey for Justice turned into a love story when Maya Moore, one of the WNBA’s brightest stars, married the man she helped free from prison.
The man, Jonathan Irons, walked out of a Missouri jail on July 1 – more than 20 years after he was convicted of burglary and assault. Mr. Irons, who pleaded guilty, has insisted he was not at the scene of the crime and had been misidentified.
Mrs. Moore’s family met Mr. Irons through the Department of Prisons in 2007. She visited shortly before her freshman year at the University of Connecticut, where she became one of the most heralded female basketball players in college history.
The couple said they planned to continue educating people about voting and helping others who had been wrongfully convicted. “We’re doing our part,” Irons said.
Ms Moore added that sometime in the spring she would get a “next step forward” regarding her basketball career, which she put on teams last year to answer what she said was a call from God.
Da Mr. Irons first met Mrs. Moore in jail, he was skeptical. He said he thought Mrs Moore, 18 at the time, was in jail for a symbolic visit. But she wanted to hear his story.
She told him, “I’m here because I do not care,” she recalled in an interview last year with The New York Times.
In an interview last year, Mr. Iron’s Mrs. Moore for a lifeguard who gave him hope. “She’s light,” he said. “Pure light.”
During college, Mrs. Moore said, she began to consider Mr. Irons as a sibling. It was challenging to go to Missouri on a visit, but they kept in touch. She sent him books by her favorite spiritual writers, and sometimes before the big games, they talked on the phone.
It was not until 2016 that Moore spoke publicly about the friendship between her and Mr. Irons as she began fighting for changes in law enforcement and the justice system following a series of police shootings of unarmed black men.
She became a strong voice for prosecution changes. She stunned the sports world when she announced in February 2019 that she would be stepping away from her career in women’s basketball, in part so she could help Mr. Irons in what they thought would be his last appeal.
In March, Mr. Iron’s conviction overturned by a state judge in Jefferson City, Mo. Mr. Irons was 16 when the crime for which he was convicted took place. He was prosecuted for burglary of a home in a suburb of St. Louis and assaulted the homeowner with a gun.
But there were no corroborating witnesses, fingerprints, DNA or blood evidence linking Mr. Irons to the crime.
Prosecutors claimed that Mr. Irons admitted to breaking into the victim’s home, but Mr. Irons and his lawyers denied it. The officer who interrogated Irons did so alone and could not record the conversation. Mr. Irons, who is African American, was tried as an adult and found guilty by an all-white jury.
The judge’s decision was based on fingerprints that had not been revealed by prosecutors in Mr. Irons’ first trial. Kent Gipson, Mr Iron’s lawyer, argued that the State withheld this evidence, which could have shown that someone else was responsible for the crime.
Mr. Irons was released from prison in July nearly four months after his conviction was overturned. Mrs. Moore sank to her knees as he walked out. Shortly after, they married.
A few years ago, when Mrs Moore came to visit Mr Irons in prison, they both admitted that they had strong feelings for each other. He said he wanted to marry her, but he said he also felt a need to protect her “because it is extremely difficult and painful to be in a relationship with a man in prison.”
Mr. Irons said in their hotel room after his release, he knelt down and asked Mrs. Moore to marry him.
She said yes.
“Over time, it was pretty clear what the Lord was doing in our hearts,” Moore said, “and now we are sitting here today starting a whole new chapter together.”