A former southern California high school football standout, whose career was cut short by a kidnap-rape conviction that sent him to prison was exonerated today after his accuser contacted him on Facebook and recanted her story, according to Yahoo News.
"I'm just thankful to be free now and have the opportunity like anybody else to thrive in life," Brian Banks told ABC News Radio today. "I'm completely overwhelmed with so many emotions and feelings all at once."
During his hearing Thursday, Banks shook and sobbed as prosecutor's did not object to the reversal of his conviction.
Banks, now 26, was 17 when he was convicted in 2002 and "by all accounts, a rising football star," according to court documents.
The 6-foot-4, 225 pound middle linebacker had a full-ride scholarship offer to the University of Southern California. His on field talents also drew interest from Michigan State University, the University of Kansas, and a host of other schools. Accordingly, many believed that Banks was destined for the NFL.
"Tragically, Banks would never realize his dream of going to college and playing college football," his attorneys wrote in court documents. "A high-school acquaintance—Wanetta Gibson—shattered that dream one fateful day after she accused Banks of rape and kidnapping following a consensual sexual encounter."
After Gibson accused Banks of Rape, his attorneys suggested that he plead no contest because he faced the possibility of up to 41 years in prison if he was convicted at a jury trial.
He plead no contest and was sentenced to 6 years, which he served and is now on parole and registered as a sex offender.
After he served his time in prison the story finally began to turn in the right direction for Banks. In February of 2011, Gibson, his accuser, friend requested him on Facebook, and although he did not accept, he got her to meet with him and a private investigator.
"Gibson met with Banks and a private investigator and recanted her preliminary hearing testimony that Banks raped her," his attorneys wrote. Gibson said that her and Banks had been "making out pretty heavy," but that they did not have sexual intercourse or "anything like that."
"Gibson said that they were just playing around, being curious about sexuality, and that the adults got involved and blew it all out of proportion," according to court papers. "She said the adults 'put stuff in [her] head.'"
The reason that Gibson was reluctant to reveal the truth is because she feared that she would have to relinquish the $1.5 million that she and her family won in a civil lawsuit against the Long Beach school district from the incident.
The California Innocence Project ran by California Western School of Law, dedicated to releasing the wrongfully convicted, represented Banks and eventually obtained his exoneration.
The Long Beach School District did not immediately respond to questions from ABCNews.com about whether they would seek the return of the money from the civil suit.
Banks is ecstatic that his life is back to where it once was and he has not given up on his NFL dreams. "I've been training since October of last year in hopes of giving football another shot," he said. "I'm hoping to possibly receive a try out from a team."
When asked if he harbors any anger or resentment towards Gibson he said, "I've been asked that question a couple of times and my answer's always been no. You know I can hold on to that, that bitterness and that anger. It won't get me anywhere."
It is sad that Banks' promising career was cut short by a lie. And even if he gets a shot at the NFL, nothing can replace the decade of training and development that he was deprived of by Gibson's false claims. Either way, his resolve and ability to forgive is extremely impressive, which is why this writer hopes that he one day gets the shot to realize his ultimate dream.
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