Saturday, May 26, 2012
football star accused of rape, cleared of charge after 10 years
LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- After a decade, it was the judgment that Brian Banks and his lawyers from the California Innocence Project fought for: Case dismissed.
"My only dream in the world was to just be free and to have the same opportunity as everybody here," said Banks after his hearing Thursday.
At age 16, Brian Banks had been a popular student at Polytechnic High in Long Beach, an athlete being scouted by eight colleges.
He verbally accepted an offer to attend the University of Southern California on a four-year scholarship when a serious accusation came from a fellow classmate and childhood friend.
Wanetta Gibson, then 15 years old, claimed Banks had raped her when he accompanied her on-campus.
"We went into an area on campus that is known as a makeout spot, we kissed, we groped we touched, but we never had sex. We ended things on a good note. I went back to class, by the end of the day I was in custody," he said.
The star athlete's attorney encouraged Banks to make a plea deal.
"She told me I was a big black teenager and no jury would believe anything I said," said Banks.
Gibson collected $1.5 million after suing the school over lack of safety on campus. Banks spent five years in prison and five years on parole, finally reaching out to California Project Innocence.
But the case turned when the alleged victim contacted him through Facebook asking to be his friend.
"Why would you friend request me?" Banks asked Gibson over Facebook. "The reply was, 'I figured you and I could let bygones be bygones. I was immature then, btu I'm much more mature now.'"
Then came a face-to-face meeting. Gibson admitted that she lied and was willing to help Banks clear his name, according to court records. But there was just one problem -- would she have to pay back the $1.5 million? It was a fear that made Gibson weary of telling her story to prosecutors.
But according to defense attorneys, Gibson admitted she was worried about having to pay back the money during a second meeting with Banks that was secretly recorded. Defense attorneys quoted Gibson as saying, "'I will go through with helping you but it's like at the same time all that money they gave us, I mean gave me, I don't want to have to pay it back.'"
Her admission was everything Banks had been waiting for.
"We got it!" said Banks when asked what thoughts ran through his mind.
Gibson did not attend the hearing on Thursday. It remained unclear if she would have to pay back the money. Nonetheless, Gibson's admission paved the way for Banks' exoneration.
"He's had a monitor on his ankle since that day, it's been difficult for him to get work, he's been struggling in the community with people looking at him like a sex offender," said Justin Brooks with California Project Innocence.
Soon the ankle monitor will come off. But for now, he says there are things of greater importance.
"To finally have my freedom back, I couldn't ask for more," he said.
Banks also said that he is no longer bitter over the situation and that he learned to eliminate those feelings in order to make the day he dreamed of possible.
While his lawyers say he has grounds to file a lawsuit against Gibson, Banks has not yet decided if he will do so. Rather, his big focus is on football once again. He wants to finally make that NFL dream a reality.