Former Long Beach Poly High football star Brian Banks spoke to guests Thursday evening at the Long Beach Main Library during an educational program for law enforcement and prosecutors, where he told his story of being wrongly accused of rape and how he proved his innocence and was eventually exonerated.
Banks, now 30, was accused of raping a classmate at age 16, and at 17 pleaded no contest to rape in exchange for a six-year sentence—considerably shorter than the 41-year-to-life term he could have faced if he had gone to trial and been convicted.
Despite having a rape kit tested on him with negative results and admitting to only consensually kissing his accuser, Wanetta Gibson, at a popular make-out spot at the school, authorities felt the case was severe enough to prosecute Banks.
Banks said he planned to take the case all the way through because he knew he was innocent, but the day the jury selection process was about to begin for his trial, his lawyer advised him differently.
“She said to me, ‘Brian, you gotta take this deal… because let me tell what happens if you don’t take it… we’re going to walk into this courtroom and we’re going to start selecting this jury that I can guarantee you, this jury will be an all-white jury and when you walk into that courtroom as a big black teenager, they will find you guilty.’ Those were her exact words,” he said.
Banks’ lawyer gave him only 10 minutes to decide, without letting him seek counsel from his family.
As part of the plea bargain, Banks would face probation and three years or six years in prison after an evaluation with a psychologist.
Despite a favorable review while incarcerated for 90 days in Chino—the worst time of his more than five-year sentence, he said—the judge gave him the maximum amount of time allowed.
“No explanation, no reasoning. Six years,” Banks said. “The way it was given to me was almost as if he was at a drive-through at McDonald’s. He ordered it up and drove off.’’
Banks said he then realized that no one even bothered looking at him directly during his multiple court appearances.
“It was like I wasn’t even there. It was like I wasn’t even a person anymore,” Banks said.
After Banks was released from prison in 2007 at 22 years of age, he was forced to register as a sex offender and wear a GPS tracking device around his ankle for the duration of his five-year parole.
Four years into his parole sentence, on one of the many days Banks continued applying for jobs online, he took a break and decided to see what friends were up to on Facebook.
It was then that he saw a friend request from Gibson.
She was trying to reach out and make amends for what she admitted were lies.
Despite Gibson refusing to admit the truth to law enforcement—for fear of having to return the money she won in the lawsuit—Banks was able to record her confession with the help of a private investigator.
With the new evidence, and many tries later, he was finally able to convince the California Innocence Project to take up his case.
In 2012, Banks’ conviction was overturned.
Banks’ case was highlighted in light of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s recent announcing of a Conviction Review Unit, which was not readily accepted by others at her office.
According to Lacey, who spoke at the event, the CRU was essential for those who didn’t have the backing of the California Innocence Project or others vouching for their case.
“Not everyone knew how to find an Innocence Project and we all know now that Innocence Projects are not necessarily all created equal,” Lacey said.
“There’s a sound you hear when you are born to do prosecution work, and it’s the voice of truth, and I felt that as I was delivering the message to the 300 prosecutors from a Saturday seminar, telling them why we needed to do this,’’ she said. “I could feel this was the right thing as the leader of that office to do. I’m very proud of this.”
Above, left photo by Stephanie Rivera.
Stephanie Rivera covers immigration and the north, west and central parts of Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.
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