By SHANNON MCLELLAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — WNBA star Maya Moore fell to her knees when, after 22 years in prison, Jonathan Irons walked out of Jefferson City Correctional Center a free man on Wednesday.
“In that moment I just — I really felt like I could rest,” Moore told Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. “I mean I’ve been standing and we’ve been standing for so long — 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 made it.”
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: @WNBA star @MooreMaya put her basketball career on hold to help free Jonathan Irons, who was wrongly convicted of burglary and assault more than two decades ago. @RobinRobertshttps://t.co/r7NiWSW2Bh pic.twitter.com/uyIqLLNUS2
— Good Morning America (@GMA) July 2, 2020
“I’m absolutely elated and thankful just to be here in this moment right now,” Irons said.
The basketball star, who has won four WNBA championships with the Minnesota Lynx and a WNBA MVP title, stepped away from the game at the height of her career to focus full time on helping Irons overturn his conviction.
“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,” Moore said.
Moore and Irons formed a close friendship in 2007, before her freshman year at the University of Connecticut, when she met him through a prison ministry in which her extended family in Missouri participated.
When Irons was 16 years old, he was tried and convicted as an adult by an all-white jury for the burglary and shooting at the home of 38-year-old Stanley Stotler. Irons maintained his innocence while he was in prison, saying he was wrongly identified during the lineup.
After years of fighting, a Missouri judge overturned Irons’ conviction in March, saying there were problems with the way the case had been investigated and tried — including a fingerprint report that would’ve proved Irons’ innocence, not being turned over to his defense team.
While Irons, now 40, has spent most of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he said he doesn’t feel resentment toward the man who wrongly identified him, and said that Stotler is a “victim” as well.
“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 wants to help others in the same situation.
“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’s so much greater coming in the horizon and I see it,” Irons said.
As for Moore, she’s not sure if her future will bring her back to the basketball court, but for now she is going to enjoy some rest.
An incredible moment….Jonathan Irons is freed from prison! @MooreMaya dropped to her knees in gratitude. She, her family and others fought tirelessly for his release. Tomorrow morning Jonathan and Maya will join us LIVE on @GMA 🙏🏾❤️ https://t.co/LGrmKT9xJH
— Robin Roberts (@RobinRoberts) July 2, 2020
“For the first time in my adult life I’m trying to live in the moment,” Moore said. ” I haven’t really been able to have the fullness of the rest that I wanted … now is the time to take a break then seeing what the future holds, maybe around sometime next spring.”
For those looking to join the fight for criminal justice reform, Moore offers some advice.
“The first step for anybody is … I would say get to know somebody who isn’t exactly like you and doesn’t come from the same background as you, educate yourself and then just keep showing up,” Moore said. “Finding ways to show up for people and your voice will come out of that relationship and out of your pursuit to seeing people who aren’t exactly like you.”
Irons hopes that his story will serve as inspiration for others to keep fighting.
“We shouldn’t give up. We should keep going,” Irons said. “In this moment I want people to have hope from this story because we’re in dark times. And we got to keep going. We got to keep the faith.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.