On May 24, 2012, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark C. Kim granted Brian Banks’ petition for writ of habeas corpus and overturned his rape conviction. Banks had been fighting to prove his innocence since his conviction in 2002 and was finally exonerated with the help of the California Innocence Project.
In 2002, Brian was a star middle linebacker at Long Beach Polytechnic High School football star and had verbally accepted a full scholarship with the University of Southern California. His career goal was to play professional football in the National Football League after playing at USC.
However, in the summer of 2002, a high-school acquaintance, Wanetta Gibson, accused Banks of rape and kidnapping following a consensual sexual encounter on the school campus. After the charges were filed and Banks was arrested, he faced a difficult decision. If Banks went to trial, he risked receiving a sentence of 41 years-to-life in prison. The alternative was to take a plea deal and receive a 5 year prison sentence. Either choice would ruin his chance to go to college and play football. Banks decided to choose the lesser of two evils when he pleaded no contest to the charges. In addition to the prison sentence, Banks was subject to a lengthy probation period and having to register as a sex offender. After Banks was incarcerated, Gibson and her mother sued the Long Beach Unified School District and would eventually receive a settlement of over 1 million dollars.
After Banks served his five-year sentence, he was put on probation and forced to wear an electronic ankle bracelet so authorities could monitor his location. Because of his conviction, Banks had difficulty finding employment. Job offers were rescinded as the result of background checks or because of travel restrictions as the result of the terms of his probation. For example, any job would have to allow him to set up equipment at certain times during the day to transmit his location to his probation officer.
In February 2011, Banks’ accuser, Wanetta Gibson, sent a “friend request” to him on Facebook and asked to meet with him. Banks then agreed to meet with Gibson because, in his words, "I reached out to her and asked her to meet with me after receiving that Facebook friend request, and when we met, my sole purpose of meeting was to capture that recantation on tape." At that meeting, held at a private investigator’s office, Gibson admitted, on videotape, that she had lied to authorities and offered to help him clear his name, but there was a catch. She did not want to return the settlement money from the civil suit against the Long Beach schools.
At this point, Banks contacted the California Innocence Project (CIP) for help. CIP attorneys watched the tape and saw Gibson’s admission that she was neither kidnapped nor raped by Banks. CIP then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus to the Los Angeles Superior Court asking that Brian’s conviction be reversed. Despite the videotaped recantation, the court was not going to automatically reverse the conviction. CIP attorneys then worked with the district attorney to show that Gibson’s recantation was credible. After investigating the case, the District Attorney’s Office decided not to oppose the petition and on May 24, 2012, Judge Kim reversed Banks’ conviction.
Banks’ case and exoneration received widespread media attention, including interviews with Good Morning America, the Today Show, CBS This Morning, CNN, and the Tonight show with Jay Leno. After his exoneration, Banks pursued his dream of playing professional football. In the months after his exoneration, Banks was invited to tryouts with several NFL teams including the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Diego Chargers, and the Kansas City Chiefs. However, despite great interest, he did not receive a contract offer. Banks eventually signed a contract to play professional football with Las Vegas Locos of the United Football League. He made his pro debut on September 26, 2012 in a game against the Virgina Destroyers.
In addition, Banks has also pledged to assist other wrongfully convicted persons. He has assisted CIP with efforts to exonerate Daniel Larsen and Jason Puracal (released from Nicuraguan prison in September 2012) and works to raise awareness about the causes of wrongful convictions.