Facebook message led to football player's rape exoneration
Brian Banks logged onto Facebook last year, and a new friend request startled him.
It was the woman who, nearly a decade ago, accused him of rape when they were both students at Long Beach Poly High School.
Banks had recently ended a five-year stint in prison for the rape, and was unemployed and beaten down. So he replied with a question: Would she meet with him and a private investigator? She agreed.
At the meeting, which was secretly recorded, Wanetta Gibson said she had lied.
"No," she was quoted as saying, "he did not rape me."
That admission set off an extraordinary chain of events that culminated Thursday morning. A Superior Court judge dismissed Banks’ conviction, undoing 10 years of turmoil in a hearing that lasted less than a minute.
Banks, 26, bowed his head and trembled, his eyes flooded with tears. His girlfriend, Pamela Soladar, yelped with joy. They made their way to each other and embraced, Banks too overwhelmed to speak.
“You made it,” she whispered to him.
It had been a long, maddening journey.
In the summer of 2002, Banks was considered a top college football prospect. A 6-foot-4, 225-pound middle linebacker at Long Beach Poly High, Banks had been courted by USC, UCLA and other football powerhouses.
He was attending summer school, and asked his teacher to leave class and make a phone call, court papers said. Then Banks, a senior, ran into Gibson, a sophomore.
Banks said they fooled around, but that their sexual contact was consensual. His mother, Leomia Myers, believed him, and said she sold her condo and her car to pay for his defense.
“I knew I didn’t raise my son to do something so horrendous,” she said.
Gibson’s version shifted over the years. She could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Initially, court papers said, she told a classmate in a note containing misspellings: “he picked me up and put me in the elevator and he took me down stairs and he pulled my pants down and he rapped me and he didn’t have an condom on and I was a virgin now Im not.”
As the legal process wore on, Banks had a choice. He could take the he-said-she-said case to trial and, if he was convicted, risk being sentenced to 41 years to life in prison. Or, as his lawyer advised, he could accept a plea deal.
Banks pleaded no contest to one count of forcible rape. He was incarcerated for five years and, after his release, had to register as a sex offender.
Had Gibson not contacted Banks via Facebook, it’s unlikely their paths would have crossed again.
According to Banks and his private investigator, Gibson refused to tell prosecutors that she’d lied, lest she have to return the money she and her family had won in court. She also said she feared what her children would think of her, court papers said.
But based on the new evidence, the California Innocence Project took on Banks' case.
-- Ashley Powers in Long Beach
Photo: Former Long Beach high school football star Brian Banks hugs his mother, Leomia Myers, outside the Long Beach courthouse after his rape conviction was overturned. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times