Brian Banks, Imprisoned Because of a Lie, Is Exonerated

In 2003, high school sophomore and promising football star Brian Banks was arrested for the rape and kidnap of classmate Wanetta Gibson. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, with the requirement to wear an ankle monitor and to register as a sex offender upon release. His trial and imprisonment, however, were based upon the lie of a fifteen-year old girl who was afraid of her mother finding out she was sexually active.Brian Banks
Banks was arrested in the summer of 2002. During class, he met Gibson in a remote corner of the school where they engaged in sexual activity, without having sexual intercourse. Afterward, they parted ways, on good terms, said Banks, and returned to class. However, Gibson, worried that her mother would discover that she was sexually active, told a classmate that she had been raped. They went to school authorities, and by the end of the day, Banks had been arrested.

The charges against Banks were two counts of forcible rape and kidnapping, and his bail was set for one million dollars. As his family was unable to pay this large amount, he waited for his trial in jail for a year. When it was time for him to go to trial, his lawyer told him that he would not get a fair trial: he was a black teenager and was over six feet tall, weighing over two hundred pounds, and the jury was likely to be all white. He pled no contest, avoiding a maximum of forty-one years in prison, but was sentenced to seven years, despite there being no evidence against him other than Gibson’s word. Steve Meister, former LA County sex crimes prosecutor, said that he wouldn’t have even filed a case against Banks. There was no DNA evidence, Gibson’s statements were inconsistent, and the classmate she had confided in about the rape admitted that Gibson later told her that she had lied.

Banks ended up serving only five years in prison, but was required to wear an ankle monitor and register as a sex offender. He appealed to the California Innocence Project to help him reverse the court’s ruling and clear his name, but there wasn’t enough evidence to prove his innocence. Then one day five years later, Gibson sent him a friend request on Facebook. He consulted a lawyer, and sent her a message asking why she was contacting him. She wanted to “let bygones be bygones,” Banks said. His lawyer set up a meeting with Gibson that they secretly recorded, and she admitted that Banks had never raped her. She also said that she would help him, but she didn’t want to have to pay back the 1.5 million dollars she received from the school for a lack of sufficient security.

With the help of the California Innocence Project, Banks went to court for the second time on May 24, 2012. The tape of Gibson’s confession provided enough evidence for Banks to be exonerated. “To have this finally be over with, to finally have my name cleared and have my life back and also reflect on everything I’ve been through,” said Banks. “It’s been a 10-year struggle, so I’m happy to be free now.”

The California Innocence Project, founded in 1999 at the California Western School of Law, helped Brian Banks when he thought there was no hope. Most recently, Brian Banks has signed with the Atlanta Falcons playing football again. You can read Brian’s story and the stories of others who have been wrongfully convicted at

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
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