SD Lawyers Help Exonerate Wrongly Convicted Football Player

San Diego-based California Innocence Project helped challenge rape conviction

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Brandi Powell - NBC San Diego
    Brian Banks thanked lawyers at California Western University Friday for helping him challenge a false accusation of rape.

    Now that Brian Banks has been exonerated of a rape conviction that put him in prison for five years, the one-time prep football star has a message for NFL coaches: Give him a chance.

    After Thursday's emotional court hearing during which Banks broke down in tears, the 26-year-old said he wants to pursue his interrupted dream of playing professional football.

    Appearing Friday on NBC's "Today" show, Banks said he just wants a chance from an NFL team.

    It was the plan he left outside a prison door when he pleaded no contest to a childhood friend's false accusation of rape in 2002, a claim she has now recanted.

    Check our our exclusive interview with Banks.

    The hearing that changed Banks' life took only minutes. Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira said his office conceded the case should be dismissed. Superior Court Judge Mark C. Kim concurred and quickly announced it was over.

    Before the charges, Banks was a star middle linebacker at Long Beach Polytechnic High School and was attracting interest from college football powerhouses. He verbally agreed to a full scholarship at USC.

    Reached by NBC 7 San Diego, a Chargers spokesperson said he could not say whether Banks would have a place on the team.

    Before he got a chance at pro football, a teenage girl he had known since childhood claimed he had raped her. He was arrested and, on advice of counsel, pleaded no contest to rape and an enhancement of kidnapping in order to avoid a possible life sentence if tried by a jury.

    His story is a triumph for the California Innocence Project, based in San Diego, which took up his case and illustrates the growing trend toward taking a new look at convictions.

    But Justin Brooks, head of the program at California Western School of Law in San Diego, said this was the first case he had championed for someone already out of prison. He felt it was not too late to right a wrong for Banks and turn his life around.

    Banks appeared at Cal Western Friday to thank the lawyers who helped challenge his conviction.

    The key, said Brooks, was the woman's admission she had lied. And it came out of the blue.
    After serving five years and two months in prison, Banks was released, and a strange thing happened. Wanetta Gibson, the woman who claimed he had attacked her on the high school campus when she was 15, contacted him on Facebook and asked to meet with him.

    In two meetings, she said she had lied and offered to help him clear his name, but there was a catch. She did not want to return a $1.5 million payment from a civil suit brought by her mother against the Long Beach schools.

    She refused to repeat her new story to prosecutors but they accepted the account which had been secretly videotaped by the defense.

    It was uncertain whether Gibson will have to return the money and unlikely she would be prosecuted for making the false accusation so long ago. Gibson did not attend the hearing and she could not be reached for comment. Prosecutors and defense attorneys said they were unable to find her recently.
     

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