“There are no words in any language, no gesture in any culture that can explain or describe what I have been through,” Brian Banks told reporters today. “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.”
Banks had a promising future back in 2003, when he was in high school. At 16, he was a star football player at Long Beach Polytechnic High School and was being heavily recruited by college programs, including an offer for a full scholarship from USC. Many expected him to have an NFL career.
Then he was falsely accused of kidnapping and rape. His accuser, a student at the same high school, later sued the Long Beach Unified School District for failing to maintain a safe school environment and won $1.5 million. Fear that she might be forced to return that money apparently played a role in his accuser’s long wait before recanting her story.
At time, things must have seemed hopeless for the 16-year-old, and he pled no contest to the charge of forcible rape. Entirely innocent, he served five years and two months in prison and was registered as a sex offender.
About a year ago, his accuser finally did come forward, and her recantation was videotaped. She explains that she was never raped and wanted to come forward, but fear of losing the settlement money stayed her hand. The Long Beach Unified School District has not commented on the case.
Nine years after his conviction, the California Innocence Project brought the case before Long Beach Superior Court Judge Mark Kim. The District Attorney’s office conceded Banks had been wrongfully convicted, and 30 seconds later the judge fully exonerated Banks.
Banks, his mother and his girlfriend wept openly at the exoneration. He admits that the battle to clear his name has been a nightmare, but — at least today — he believes “the sky’s the limit.”
This story does have a happy ending, and justice was, eventually, done. While we celebrate, however, it is clear that nothing can give Banks back his youth and promising career. Nine years of his life were stolen by a lie, and California’s criminal justice system has much to answer for on that account.
- The Madeleine Brand Show, KPCC Southern California Public Radio, “Brian Banks exonerated: Lawyer discusses what led to football star’s guilty plea,” May 24, 2012
- Press-Telegram, “UPDATED: Rape conviction reversed; Long Beach football star exonerated,” Greg Mellen, May 24, 2012