A Cole County judge will consider whether the case of a man currently serving a 50-year prison sentence in a 1997 burglary and shooting in the St. Louis area should be reopened.
Jonathan Irons' case has gotten national attention, in part, due to his efforts are being supported by Maya Moore, a Jefferson City native who stepped away playing from the WNBA earlier this year before the season began to spend time helping Irons, who is a family friend, get his conviction overturned.
Irons has been incarcerated the past 23 years after he was convicted in the nonfatal shooting of a homeowner during a burglary.
During Wednesday's evidentiary hearing, Moore was in the courtroom, as Irons' defense team called several witnesses, including an independent investigator and an eyewitness identification expert, who said they examined available records, and there was no physical evidence such as DNA, fingerprints or footprints that would link Irons to the crime.
Irons, then 16, had been seen in O'Fallon on the evening of Jan. 14, 1997, with a gun, according to court records. The victim returned home and confronted a burglar, the records said. Shots were fired, and the victim was hit in the right temple. A week later, Irons was arrested. The detective in the case said Irons confessed, but the detective wasn't available to be cross-examined at trial because he was ill. He has since died.
During Wednesday's hearing, Irons took the stand in his own defense, and Green told him anything Irons said in the hearing could be used against him if the case were to go back to trial. Irons said he understood and wanted to testify.
Moore said that at the time the crime occurred, Irons was selling marijuana. When he was picked up by authorities, she said, he thought it was for illegal drugs. Irons said he did not hear he was being charged with the burglary and shooting until his first court appearance. Moore also testified the detective in the case tried to make him admit to the crime during an interrogation after his arrest and he was never read his rights.
The eyewitness expert testified he reviewed reports from the investigation, and he said the victim was shown to have not been sure who attacked him when he was given a mugshot lineup that included Irons' picture. The expert also said police encouraged the victim to guess who looked like the attacker.
Much of the testimony was around fingerprint evidence. Irons' defense claimed several of the fingerprints found at the crime scene matched the victim. However, the attorney said, none matched Irons and one was never identified.
With that in mind, Irons' lawyers are asking Green to order the Missouri Highway Patrol to test the print from the unknown person. They said it could lead to the person who actually committed the crime. Green seemed to be inclined to allow it, but did not make an official ruling. The next formal hearing in this case is scheduled for December.
Lawyers for the Missouri Attorney General's Office are arguing Irons should remain in prison and they have evidence showing Iron's defense team at the time had all the information they needed to properly defend their client.
"I feel sorry for the victim because he may believe that they got the guy who did the crime, but I am not that guy," Irons said. "I was a kid and didn't understand what was going on. I didn't trust my attorney at the time, so I didn't tell her things I probably should have. I thought any day somebody would come and say they had made a mistake."
Lawyers for the attorney general also noted Irons has filed petitions regarding his case in the past, but he has been denied any relief.
Moore started a petition on change.org to spread the word about Irons and also started a social action campaign called Win With Justice. After Wednesday's hearing, Moore said it was frustrating the process will take another two months, but they were walking out of the courthouse with hope.
"It was another step to another step, but it was a big step," Moore said. "Jonathan finally had a chance to share his side of the story. Because when he was 16, he didn't get to because his public defender didn't want him, as a 16-year-old, to take the stand. It's hard to watch attempts to not acknowledge the truth happened. We're confident that clarity will prevail."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.