LONG BEACH, Calif. – The kidnap-rape conviction of a once-promising prep football star was dismissed Thursday following a recantation by his accuser.
Brian Banks collapsed in sobs on the counsel table during a court hearing where a prosecutor quickly conceded the decade-old case and moved for the dismissal.
In the summer of 2002, Banks' future looked bright: He was a 17-year-old high school football star being heavily recruited by a number of colleges. But in a single day that changed with the accusations of kidnapping and rape by a female student.
He maintained there was no rape and their sexual contact was consensual, but his lawyer urged him to plead no contest rather than risk a sentence of 41 years to life in prison if convicted. He followed the advice and went to prison for six years, shattering his dreams of gridiron glory.
Lawyers for the California Innocence Project were prepared Thursday to argue he should be exonerated.
In a strange turn of events, the woman who accused him a decade ago friended him on Facebook when he got out of prison. Wanetta Gibson explained she wanted to "let bygones be bygones."
According to documents in the case, she met with Banks and said she had lied; there had been was no kidnap and no rape and she offered to help him clear his record.
But she subsequently refused to repeat the story to prosecutors because she feared she would have to return a $1.5 million payment from a civil suit brought by her mother against Long Beach schools.
She was quoted as telling 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."
Justin Brooks, a lawyer who heads the innocence project, said that Banks has remained on probation, under electronic monitoring, has had to register as a sex offender and has had trouble getting a job.
He said Banks continues to train for what he hopes will be a future chance at a football career.