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Missouri man whose case compelled WNBA star to put career on hold freed from prison

Jonathan Irons, 40, walked out of prison Wednesday

ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. — Jonathan Irons, the Missouri inmate whose case compelled one of the WNBA’s greatest players to put her career on to advocate for him, was released from the Jefferson City Correctional Center Wednesday.

Irons, now 40 years old, was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison for a 1998 O’Fallon, Missouri home invasion in which the victim was robbed, shot and assaulted. The victim survived and fired one shot with his own gun. Irons was 16 at the time, but 18 when he was convicted.

In March, Cole County Judge Dan Green vacated the sentence. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, saying Green overstepped his authority. The state’s highest court denied Schmitt’s appeal this week, sending the decision on whether to retry Irons back to St. Charles County where the crime occurred.

Lohmar declined to comment, but announced he’s having a press conference Thursday to discuss the case.

One of Irons’ attorneys, Jayson Lenox, told 5 On Your Side that Lohmar declined to retry his client and that he walked out of prison Wednesday evening.

"He told me, 'praise the Lord,'" Lenox said of a phone conversation he had with Irons. "And I said Hallelujah."

"He was praising the Lord because that's who Jonathan is, he was so happy. And so relieved that it was finally going to happen...He was just overwhelmed with joy and could not be more thankful that he was so blessed to be released." 

Sources told 5 On Your Side that Lohmar’s reasons against retrying the case included a lack of DNA evidence, the fact that Irons’ alleged confession to O’Fallon detectives when he was 16 years old was not witnessed or recorded, and witnesses put Irons in the neighborhood, but not at the crime scene, no evidence linked Irons to the weapon, and fingerprint evidence did not prove helpful in determining Irons’ guilt or innocence.

The detective who said Irons confessed to the crime is now deceased.

Lenox said Maya Moore was among those who greeted Irons as he walked out of prison Wednesday. Irons met the WNBA star 2007 when her family was involved in a prison ministry. She went on to play for the Minnesota Lynx, but announced in 2019 that she was taking some time off from her career to advocate for Irons in his final appeal. 

"There are so many different people that are behind Jonathan," Lenox said. "It's just a wonderful, wonderful story and Jonathan is so thankful for everybody what everyone has done to assist them."

Lenox said he met Irons when he became a member of his legal team in 2014. 

"The first time I visited Jonathan back in 2014, I remember him saying, 'Jay, I will never ever get out of prison,'" Lenox recalled. "And I said, 'Well, Jonathan. You know, there is parole.' 

"And he said, 'I will never ever be paroled because to be paroled, you have to admit you did the crime.' And he goes, 'I did not do this.'"

The victim of the home invasion identified Irons from a flawed photo line-up, Lenox said. Irons' picture was slightly larger than the others, and the victim originally told police he was unable to identify his attacker.

But Irons harbors no ill-will toward the victim, Lenox said.

"He is such a faith-based individual, he is able to forgive him," he said "Jonathan knows it was not his fault. And that it was a mis-identification."

Lenox said Irons has a long road to normalcy ahead of him. 

He doesn't have a birth certificate. Never had a driver's license. Lenox realized how much Irons has missed while on the phone with him recently. 

"We had a bad connection and I told him I only had one more bar left, and then I realized he probably had no idea what that meant," Lenox said. "He's been in prison for 23 years. He's probably never used a cellphone."

But the road already has a beginning.

Lenox said Irons plans to live with Moore's godparents. 

Moore won't be far.

She lives across the street.

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