When Brian Banks was 16 in the summer of 2002, he had his whole life ahead of him. The high schooler was a 6 foot 2 inch, 220-pound linebacker for Long Beach Polytechnic High School in California. A star football player, he was one of the most highly recruited linemen in the nation and even had a commitment to play for University of Southern California on full scholarship.
Fate had other plans for Banks, though.
In July of that year, he ran into then-15-year-old Wanetta Gibson after summer school.
“We met, hugged, started talking and agreed to go to an area on our campus that was known as a make out area,” Banks told NY Daily News reporters. “We went to this area and made out. We never had sex.”
Later that day, Banks found himself arrested for the alleged rape of Gibson on campus. Although he asserted that he never had sex with her, his pleas fell on deaf ears.
“I was being arrested and accused of rape. I was taken into custody that same day and the judge put a bail on me that was too high for me to post bond. It was over $1 million.”
Life was turned upside down for the aspiring football player who spent a year in juvenile hall before his case ever came to court. Although he was still underage, Banks was tried as an adult and faced 41 years to life if found guilty.
Despite several plea deals where he could have found a lesser sentence, Banks was adamant to show the jury the truth. Things weren’t easy for him though.
As the jury was being selected, Banks was offered the choice of pleading guilty to one charge of rape to see that the other charges were dropped. This came at the price of several years probation as well as seeing his reputation and record tarnished.
At 17 years old, Banks had an incredible decision to make: does he take the plea deal or fight the system?
“Do I plead to a crime that I did not commit and receive a small sentence or do I roll the dice, risk my entire life behind bars for a crime I didn’t commit?” he said. “I realized that day, regardless of whatever my decision was, neither one of them was going home an innocent man.”
The judge ended up giving Banks six years. Although the teen had never so much as had a speeding ticket before, he now found himself facing a punishment reserved for ruthless criminals.
In the end, Banks lost ten years of his life to the system. Five years in custody and another five fighting parole. When he left prison, he found a world that had left him behind, one that no longer cared if he played football or was unemployed. Banks’s life had crumbled around him.
Which is why it came as a surprise to Banks when in 2011, he received a friend request on Facebook from someone unexpected.
“It was her,” Banks says, “the girl who had accused me nine years ago.”
“I was hoping we could let bygones be bygones,” Banks says Gibson wrote. “I was immature back in the day, but I’m much more mature now. Let’s hang out. I’d love to see you. I’ve seen your picture on Facebook. You look real good. I would love to hook up.”
Banks wasn’t looking to “hook up” though. He was looking to have his named cleared.
After contacting a private investigator and discussing the matters with him, Banks took a risk in order to clear his name.
“In the event that I violated my parole conditions coming into contact with her and was sent back to prison, I wanted them to at least know what was said,” Banks told reporters. “I took a big risk. I knew this was the only opportunity to prove my innocence by her admitting she lied.”
After inviting her to the investigator's office, he was able to discuss the matter with her with the room bugged and investigators listening in.
Upon asking her if she was raped or assaulted by Banks, he said she laughed and told them he did not: “Of course not. If he raped me, I wouldn’t be here right now. We were just young and having a good time, being curious, then all these other people got involved and blew it out of proportion.”
To this day, Banks still doesn’t know what drove her to do what she did. She collected $1.5 million from the school after claiming it was an unsafe environment for her. Banks guesses, though, that it was because of her reputation, fearing that her parents and classmates would find out what she did. Banks says he doesn’t think she meant to put him away.
After the meeting, Banks took the recordings to the California Innocence Project which was able to appeal his case.
Within the year, Banks was cleared.
Things began looking up for Banks after this. He received another offer from USC to play football for them. which he accepted. Soon, he was trying out for professional teams all over the country.
He was able to sign with a few teams including a Las Vegas professional team as well as the Atlanta Falcons, but Banks was getting older and knew that his football playing years were ultimately behind him.
Now Banks is freed and life is looking good for him. Although he was wronged and had his freedom as well as his reputation taken from him, he wants the past to stay the past.
“When you put yourself in position where you have to make a decision whether you forgive somebody or you don’t, that means you are still dealing with it,” Banks says. “I’m not dealing with it anymore. The past is the past. It already happened. Tomorrow is a mystery.”