Cleared Of Rape Conviction, California Man Remains 'Unbroken'
Five years in prison. Then five years of probation and wearing an electronic monitoring device. The shame of being a registered sex offender. Not being able to get a job. His dream of playing in the NFL destroyed, possibly forever.
Brian Banks, now 26, has gone through all that.
Then Thursday, the California man's rape conviction was dismissed. His accuser, who last year sent Banks a message on Facebook suggesting that they "let bygones be bygones," had been videotaped saying she lied about being raped. Wanetta Gibson's previous statements to police about the alleged 2002 incident had been the only evidence against Banks — there was no physical evidence that Banks had raped her. With the change in her story, prosecutors and a judge agreed, there was no case.
Having his name cleared made for "the greatest day of my life," Banks told Southern California Public Radio's Patt Morrison. Not only does the conviction come off his record, but the electronic monitor comes off his ankle and he no longer has to register as a sex offender.
The former high school football star, who once seemed to be on the way to playing for the University of Southern California, says he now wants to pursue that lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.
Banks' story, which he's scheduled to talk about later today with All Things Considered, raises anew questions about the U.S. legal system. After his arrest, as KPCC reports, Banks' lawyer "urged him to plead no contest rather than risk a sentence of 41 years to life in prison if convicted."
Justin Brooks of the California Innocence Project, who handled Banks' case after the accuser recanted, told Patt Morrison that racism surely played a part in what happened. Banks' original lawyer, he said, basically told the then-teenager that because he was a large, black, young man it would be his word against hers and that he should take the deal.
As for Banks' accuser, she hasn't been willing to repeat to authorities what she said on the videotape (made by a private investigator) about the accusation. In fact, the Los Angeles Times says, she "recanted her video statement." Her family had been granted a $1.5 million legal judgment from the Long Beach, Calif., public school system because she had claimed the rape happened on school property. Now, Brooks told the Times, she doesn't want to put that money at risk.
Banks is looking ahead. He told KPCC that, "I remained unbroken throughout this situation and I know that if I can get through this and get my life back, I'll be able to get through the rest."
Update at 2:30 p.m. ET. You Have To Move On "And Move On Strong":
In his conversation with Banks, NPR's Robert Siegel just noted that people who have spent time in prison for crimes they are later cleared of having done are often not outwardly angry. Banks is another example. Why is that?
"You have to realize that myself and others that have been wrongfully convicted of crimes, we've dealt with the situation," Banks said. And, "you realize that you're not going to survive in prison or progress as a human being if you allow yourself to continue to hold on to this negative energy. You keep the truth within you and understand what has taken place, but you also want to move on and move on strong."
Banks also told Robert that he took the original plea deal in part because his attorney had told him he would likely only serve another 18 months or so in prison (he had been in jail about a year by that time). "I was pretty much sold this dream," he said. Instead, the judge issued a harsher sentence.
Much more from Robert's conversation with Banks will be All Things Considered later, and we'll add the as-broadcast version of that conversation to the top of this post. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.