Onetime top football prospect seeks exoneration

LONG BEACH, Calif. — In the summer of 2002, Brian Banks’ future looked bright: He was a 17-year-old high school football star being heavily recruited by a number of colleges. But in a single day that changed with the accusations of kidnapping and rape by a female student.

He maintained there was no rape and their sexual contact was consensual but his lawyer urged him to plead no contest rather than risk a sentence of 41 years to life in prison if convicted. He followed the advice and went to prison for six years, shattering his dreams of gridiron glory.

On Thursday, Banks is due in a courtroom where lawyers for the California Innocence Project will argue he should be exonerated.

In a strange turn of events, the woman who accused him a decade ago friended him on Facebook when he got out of prison. Wanetta Gibson explained she wanted to “let bygones be bygones.”

According to documents in the case, she met with Banks and said she had lied; there had been was no kidnap and no rape and she offered to help him clear his record. But she subsequently refused to repeat the story to prosecutors because she feared she would have to return a $1.5 million payment from a civil suit brought by her mother against Long Beach schools..

She was quoted as telling Banks: “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.”

Prosecutors and lawyers from the innocence project at California Western School of Law in San Diego have agreed that a hearing should be held at which Gibson would be compelled to testify under oath with cross-examination.

Justin Brooks, a lawyer who heads the innocence project, said he hopes that Superior court Judge Mark C. Kim will either grant a hearing or simply exonerate Banks on the basis of legal papers filed in the case.

“This is a kid who was a superstar,” he said. “He would be playing the NFL now if this hadn’t happened.”

He said that Banks, who is on probation, remains under electronic monitoring, has to register as a sex offender and has had trouble getting a job. He said Banks continues to train for what he hopes will be a future chance at a football career.

He said Gibson has been ordered to attend the hearing and Banks will be in court as well.

“I look forward to watching him move forward from this nightmare and hopefully get a shot at the NFL,” said Brooks. “After what he’s been through he deserves a chance.”

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