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Former Rising Football Star Brian Banks Exonerated Decade After False Rape Accusation

A former high school football star looking forward to a full college scholarship and a possible NFL career has been exonerated of a rape he did not commit, a crime which landed him behind bars for six years and destroyed his college and professional football prospects.

ABC News reports that 26-year-old Brian Banks was exonerated for the alleged 2002 rape of Wanetta Gibson, a crime which occurred when both were students at Long Beach Polytechnic High School in California. At the time, Banks was a rising football star with a full-ride scholarship offer from the University of Southern California, and other football powerhouse colleges like Michigan State University and the University of Kansas coveted him.

“Tragically, Banks would never realize his dream of going to college and playing college football,” Banks’ lawyers stated in court documents. “A high-school acquaintance—Wanetta Gibson—shattered that dream one fateful day after she accused Banks of rape and kidnapping following a consensual sexual encounter.”

That encounter, in which the teens were “making out pretty heavy,” according to Gibson, who recanted in the presence of Banks and a private investigator, involved no actual sex.”

Gibson said that they were just playing around, being curious about sexuality, and that the adults got involved and blew it all out of proportion,” legal documents state. “She said the adults ‘put stuff in [her] head.'”

When Banks was charged, Gibson failed to tell the truth because she was afraid of losing $1.5 million that she and her family had been awarded in a civil suit against the Long Beach school district.

Banks’ lawyers urged him to plead no contest to the rape charge or risk facing more than 40 years in prison if convicted by a jury. Banks agreed and was sentenced to six years, which he has served. He is now on parole and registered as a sex offender, a status that will change now that he’s been cleared.

Banks’ exoneration was largely due to the excellent work of the California Innocence Project, a law school program at California Western School of Law.

The end of Banks’ nightmare was clearly in sight after Gibson attempted to friend him on Facebook last February. He demurred, but requested a meeting in the presence of a private investigator. She agreed and admitted she fabricated the rape. Unbeknownst to Gibson, Banks secretly recorded her confession.

The Long Beach School District has not yet announced whether it will attempt to recover the $1.5 million awarded to Gibson and her family.

As for Banks, he and his family are elated that his name has been cleared.

“I’m just thankful to be free now and have the opportunity like anybody else to thrive in life,” he told ABC News radio on Thursday.

“I’m completely overwhelmed with so many emotions and feelings all at once.”

Banks says he has not given up his dream of playing professional football.

“I’ve been training since October of last year in hopes of giving football another shot,” he told ABC. “I’m hoping to possibly receive a try out from a team.”

He also says he does not harbor any animosity toward Gibson for causing him so much pain.

“I’ve been asked that question a couple of times and my answer’s always been no. You know I can hold on to that, that bitterness and that anger. It won’t get me anywhere,” he said.

Banks’ exoneration comes just days after the National Registry of Exonerations released a landmark report revealing that more than 2,000 people have been officially exonerated of crimes since 1989. Fully half of those cleared were African-American, and the study tellingly found that more than half of all exonerations were due to perjury or false accusations.

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