Yesterday was a bittersweet day for Long Beach native Brian Banks. Ten years after being accused of rape and five years after serving time for the crime he didn’t commit, a judge told the 26-year-old that his case was dismissed.
In 2002, Brian was a popular 16-year-old student at Polytechnic High and a star athlete on the football team who was already being scouted by eight colleges. He verbally accepted an offer to attend the University of Southern California on a four-year scholarship when an accusation from a fellow classmate and childhood friend took it all away. Wanetta Gibson, who was 15 years old at the time, said Banks raped and kidnapped her on school grounds and the rest was history.
“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,” Brian told ABC. We ended things on a good note. I went back to class, by the end of the day I was in custody.”
And that’s where he stayed. Facing a sentence of 41 years to life in prison if convicted, Brian’s lawyer urged him to take a plea deal. And so he did. Brian told reporters:
“She told me I was a big black teenager and no jury would believe anything I said.”
After five years in prison and five years on parole, Brian reached out to the California Innocence Project to clear his name but a random friend request actually did more for him than the project could. When Brian got out, Wanetta wanted to be friends on Facebook. Brian said he sent his accuser a message asking why she sent the request and she replied:
“I figured you and I could let bygones be bygones. I was immature then, but I’m much more mature now.’”
Right there I would have caught a murder case, but I digress. Brian agreed to meet up with Wanetta and when he did, she admitted that she lied and said she was willing to help clear his name. There was one problem though, she was worried she would have to pay back the $1.5 million settlement that she collected from the school after she sued them over lack of safety on campus. During a conversation that was secretly recorded, Wanetta was quoted 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 all Brian needed to clear his name and that’s exactly what happened yesterday. Now the former NFL hopeful wants to put his life back together.
“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.
Brian’s lawyers have informed him that he has a right to sue Wanetta for her false claim against him but so far he hasn’t stated whether he’ll go through with that or not. He said his focus is to get back to football and recover his decade-long dream.
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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