A decade ago, high school football star Brian Banks pleaded no contest to kidnapping and rape charges. On Thursday, Banks, now 26, regained his freedom after his accuser recanted her testimony. Lolita Lopez reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 24, 2012.
A judge has exonerated a Long Beach high school football star whose professional sports prospects were derailed by a 2003 rape conviction, after his accuser recanted her testimony.
The California Innocence Project said that Brian Banks, a one-time Long Beach Polytechnic High School football star, had been exonerated after a hearing in a Long Beach court room Thursday morning.
"There are no words in any language, no gesture in any culture that can explain or describe what I have been through," said a tearful Banks, after his case’s dismissal. "I hope my story brings light to a major flaw in the judicial system. It is time for wrongful convictions to be addressed in the United States."
Though he maintained his innocence, Banks pleaded no contest a decade ago to charges that he raped a fellow student. A plea deal meant he served nearly six years in prison – instead of the 41 he could have faced.
Now 26, Banks is out on probation and has had to register as a sex offender. He was still wearing an ankle monitor Thursday outside the courthouse, where he celebrated the judge's action with family and supporters.
"I'm happy I'm free now," he said in an interview with NBC4. "I just wish the opportunity I have now of being heard was there when I was 16 years old."
In high school, Banks was awarded a scholarship to USC and was regarded as a top college football prospect with good chances of going into the NFL.
Lawyers for the California Innocence Project, which works for the release of wrongfully convicted inmates, took up his case and won his exoneration.
"Brian’s story is so compelling, and his case for innocence so clear, we knew we had to take this on," said Justin Brooks, a professor at California Western School of Law and director of the project, in a press release. “Brian lost a huge part of his life when he was unjustly sent to prison."
Banks' accuser, Wanetta Gibson, reportedly said she lied about the accusation. She friended Banks on Facebook after he got out of prison, saying she wanted to "let bygones be bygones."
According to documents in the case, she met with Banks and said she had lied, and she offered to help him clear his record.
But she later refused to repeat her statements to prosecutors because she was worried she would have to return a $1.5 million payment from a civil suit brought by her mother against the Long Beach Unified School District.
She told Banks, "I will go through with helping you but it's like at the same time all that money they gave us, I mean gave me, I don't want to have to pay it back."
In a brief hearing Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark C. Kim told attorneys that the case was dismissed based on documents filed by Banks' attorneys.
"This is a kid who was a superstar,'' Brooks said. "He would be playing the NFL now if this hadn't happened.'"
Banks tweeted Wednesday, "So many people coming to show support tomorrow!! #fullhouse nothing but love and I love y'all back x2!!"
According to his website, He wants to produce a documentary about his life, and is hoping to return to football. He's been training since his release from prison in 2007.