Amazing love: How Basketball star suspended her career to help free jailed man, then marries him
Maya Moore was considered one of the best players in Women National Basketball Association (WNBA) history – a first-round draft pick for the Minnesota Lynx in 2011 who helped them win four championships, got named MVP in the 2014 season, won two Olympic and two World Championship gold medals – yet she gave up her career early in 2019 to help Jonathan Irons overturn a 50-year jail term.
Today, she’s married to that man whom she first met 12 years ago while on a prison ministry with her family.
This is their extraordinary love story, according to the BBC.
On 14 January 1997, someone entered the home of Stanley Stotler, situated in a white working-class suburb of St Louis, Missouri. When Stotler returned, the burglar shot him in the head.
Stotler survived and was initially unable to identify the perpetrator in a line-up of six photos but a report claimed a police officer asked him to make his best guess and he pointed at a picture of Irons and another one of a different African-American man.
The victim later identified Irons as the assailant even though there were no fingerprints connecting the teenager to the crime. No DNA or blood evidence. No corroborating witnesses.
The young 17-year old faced jail term for probably a long time and in December 1998, aged just 18, Irons was convicted of assault and burglary by an all-white jury and sent to prison for 50 years.
For many, that would have been end of the toad and, probably end of their lives but motherluck was not done with Irons yet.
In 2007, nine years into his sentence, an 18-year-old Maya Moore, on a trip to her hometown, visited the prison on ministry work with her family and the unlikely duo struck up a friendship.
Maya was to return several times over the next 12 years to visit Irons. She sent him books by her favourite writers and spoke to him on the phone before big games.
Yet, she wanted to do more than just sending books and chats to Irons. She believed in his innocence and wanted to help get him out of jail.
“There’s something about truth that makes you believe it’s going to happen,” Moore says. “He just had to keep believing that if we could get the truth in front of the right people, who want to do the right thing, they’ll do it.”
So in early 2019, when she was supposed to be preparing for the new WNBA season, Moore got to work with Irons and his lawyers to request a retrial.
It was tough to get going with state prosecutors not willing to admit defeat. They tried to prevent a review but were unsuccessful and, in October 2019, Irons was finally able to state his innocence in front of a judge.
Six months later, on 9 March 2020, Irons’ conviction was overturned! Judge Daniel Green described the original case as “very weak and circumstantial at best”.
In his decision, the judge cited a fingerprint found inside a door in Stotler’s home that matched neither Stotler nor Irons.
Had that evidence being produced at the initial trial, it could have proved someone else committed the crime, but it was never turned over to the defence team in the trial in 1998.
Although the verdict was overturned in March, it wasn’t until July before Irons was finally released, to walk away a free man after 23 years in prison.
The couple got married immediately and, according to Moore, are “are excited to continue this new chapter of life together.”
Irons, now 40 years old thanked everyone who’d given him a chance to live again.
He said: “I feel like I can live life now. I thank everybody that supported me – Maya and her family. I’m so grateful to have somewhere to be home.”
Irons also had high hopes for his ex-prison mates, his companions for the last 23 years.
“I’m not going to forget them,” he says. “And I’m going to help the ones that I can.”
Asked whether she would go back to her playing career, Moore said: “I’m hoping sometime in the spring we’ll be able to have a next step moving forward.
“Right now I am trying to really just breathe from this long, long battle and enjoy and rest. There’s a lot of unknowns for a lot of us right now so I’m still in that camp.”
Happy married life to Mr and Mrs Irons.