Brian Banks dreamed of making it to the NFL. He had a full scholarship to one of the top football programs in the country, and he was a star athlete from Long Beach Polytechnic High School, the intuition responsible for more NFL players than any other high school in the nation. But his dreams were shattered when he was accused of kidnapping and raping a childhood friend in a school stairwell.
Based on his lawyer’s advice and to avoid a possible life sentence, Banks pled no contest to the charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. After serving half his term, he was released and got the strangest request: his accuser friended him on Facebook.
When they decided to meet, Wanetta Gibson, 15 at the time of the alleged attack, admitted that she’d made up the whole story. Banks did not kidnap or rape her, and she agreed to help him try to clear his name, but with one condition: she didn’t want to testify in court.
Gibson’s family received a $1.5 million settlement from a civil lawsuit they field against the Long Beach schools and she feared that if she went to court she’d have to pay the money back.
Banks had tried to win release while he was in prison, but Brooks, a law professor and head of the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego, said he could not have been exonerated without the woman coming forward and recanting her story.
Brooks said it was the first case he had ever taken in which the defendant had already served his time and had been free for a number of years.
Banks remained on probation, however, and was still wearing his electronic monitoring bracelet at Thursday’s hearing. His lawyer said the first thing the two planned to do was report to probation officials and have it removed.
“The charges are dismissed now,” Brooks said. “It’s as if it didn’t happen. … It was the shortest, greatest proceeding I’ve ever been part of.”
Banks had been arrested after Gibson said he met her in a school hallway and urged her to come into an elevator with him. The two had been friends since middle school and were in the habit of making out in a school stairwell, according to court papers.
There were contradictions in Gibson’s story, as she told some people the rape happened in the elevator and others that it happened in the stairwell.
A kidnapping enhancement was added to the case because of the allegation Banks had taken her to the stairwell. That enhancement also was thrown out Thursday.
Outside court, Banks donned a sweat shirt that read “Innocent,” as several friends and family members wept. His parents were jubilant, and Banks thanked them for standing by him.
“I know the trauma, the stress that I’ve been through, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your child torn from you,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done without my parents.”
Now that he’s cleared his name, Gibson hopes to still make it to the NFL and his attorney has asked several pro teams to give the 26-year-old a shot. And while the odds are certainly stacked against him, I won’t count him out just yet.