In 2002, when she was just 15, Wanetta Gibson (left), told police that NFL hopeful Brian Banks (right) dragged her across their school campus and raped her. Brian was arrested, tried and locked up. He spent more than five years in prison and another five years on parole. He had to register as a sex offender and was still wearing an ankle monitor until Thursday May 24th when he was exonerated after Wanetta admitted she lied about the kidnapping and rape.
While Brian was locked up, Wanetta’s family successfully sued the school district, claiming it had failed to adequately protect her. The school paid the family $1.5 million.
After ten years of torture for Brian, Wanetta eventually admitted in a videotaped interview with a private investigator that Brian never raped her. But then she was very concerned about the huge pay out her family received. “I will go through with helping you, but … all that money they gave us, I mean me, I don’t want to have to pay that back,” Gibson said on tape. She later refused to repeat her story to prosecutors, but her videotaped confession was enough to exonerate Brian.
A young athlete’s dream of a pro football career was rekindled on Thursday when his conviction for raping a high school classmate was thrown out after his accuser admitted the attack never happened.
Over the cheers of his family and supporters, Brian Banks, 26, called it “the best day of my life, by far.”“If I can do this, I can get through anything,” he told The Daily just after leaving a Long Beach, Calif., courtroom. “This was my hardest part, and, as they say, good things go to people who hustle while they wait.”
In a strange twist, Banks got the chance to clear his name in February 2011 when his accuser contacted him through Facebook and asked him to “let bygones be bygones.” Wanetta Gibson later admitted on tape that Banks had never raped her, setting the stage for yesterday’s dramatic reversal.
When the judge agreed to throw out his conviction on Thursday, Banks lowered his head and wept.
Later, the burly onetime linebacker said he had left behind anger but had not lost his ambition to play in the NFL. “I knew by hanging onto bitterness, it would keep me strangled,” he said.
It was unclear on Thursday whether Banks’ accuser would face any charges. She did not attend Thursday’s hearing and efforts to reach her for comment were unsuccessful. In a videotaped interview with a private investigator, Gibson admitted repeatedly that the rape and kidnapping story was fabricated. She also voiced concern about a payout — $1.5 million — she received from the Long Beach school district while Banks was in prison.
“I will go through with helping you, but … all that money they gave us, I mean me, I don’t want to have to pay that back,” Gibson said on tape. She later refused to repeat her story to prosecutors, according to court documents filed by Banks’ attorney.
In 2002, Banks was a 17-year-old senior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School with big dreams. The school’s legendary athletic program has spawned dozens of pro sports careers, and was once named the best in the country by Sports Illustrated. A standout linebacker and special teams player, Banks was headed to the University of Southern California on a full scholarship after being heavily recruited by other powerhouse programs.
But his hopes appeared to come to an end in July 2002 after Banks and a 15-year-old Gibson ducked into a school stairway to make out. They did not have sex, but the girl later claimed Banks dragged her across campus and raped her.
The story didn’t hold water, said Banks’ attorney. Gibson gave varying locations for the alleged attack. No DNA was found. Also, how was she dragged across campus in broad daylight without anyone seeing them? Despite the lack of evidence, prosecutors offered Banks a difficult choice: Take a plea in hopes of a short sentence, or face a sentence of 41 years to life.
Banks said he agreed to plead no contest after his lawyer said a jury would see “a big black teenager, and you’re automatically going to be assumed guilty.”
While Banks was behind bars, Gibson’s family successfully sued the school district, claiming it had failed to adequately protect her. The school paid the family $1.5 million, according to Gibson.
Banks said he was shocked when she contacted him online. He was even more surprised when she agreed to speak with him and a private investigator face-to-face, and then admitted fabricating the tale.
“The case was built on nothing,” said Banks’ attorney, Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project. “He took the plea because he was scared and facing 40 years in prison, and his lawyer was telling him to take it.”
Brooks said Gibson admitted she became upset during the encounter when Banks “said something obnoxious to her, and she stormed out and called it rape, and it just snowballed from there.”
Late last year, Banks began an intense workout regime with professional trainers in hopes of getting a try-out with a professional football team. All the while, he had to wear a plastic monitor strapped to one ankle.
“Every day I wake up, I put an extra sock on my GPS to keep it nice and snug and keep it from flying around while I work out,” he said. Brooks said they hoped to have it removed late yesterday.
Banks said he would continue to train. His dream tryout: “The team that wants to give me a chance.”
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