Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Exonerated Brian Banks tells Jay Leno: 'I'm on top of the world'

June 7, 2012 |  9:53 am

Brian Banks, the former Long Beach Polytechnic High School football standout whose rape conviction was overturned last month, appeared Wednesday on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," where he told the talk show host he was "on top of the world."

Banks, 26, wore a blue sweatshirt bearing a California license plate "XONR8" during the interview, which lasted about 10 minutes.

"I'm doing great. ... This right here is too cool for school," Banks told Leno, drawing laughter from the audience.

Leno asked Banks to walk him through a decade of turmoil that began in 2002 when classmate Wanetta Gibson said Banks, 17 at the time, raped her one day during summer school.

At the time, Banks was considered one of the top college football prospects in the nation, even though he had only completed his junior year of high school. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound middle linebacker was drawing attention from USC, UCLA and other powerhouse schools.

Banks said he fooled around with Gibson that day, but the sexual contact was consensual.

"I've always stood to my innocence," he told Leno.

But after a preliminary hearing, Banks had a choice: He could take the he-said-she-said case to trial and risk a sentence of 41 years to life in prison, or he could take a plea deal.

"I was 17 making this decision," he told Leno. "A decision I couldn't really make."

Banks took the deal. He pleaded no contest to one count of forcible rape and spent five years in prison. 

After his release, Banks was forced to register as a sex offender and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle. He couldn't leave Los Angeles County without permission, he said, let alone the state.

It was "humiliating," he told Leno, "having this thing on my ankle and trying to be normal."

"In a lot of situations, parole was a lot harder," he said. "Behind bars, everyone's an inmate. Everybody has their skeletons, everybody has their story. You get out here in the free world, you're the only one with a skeleton of that magnitude."

But then a friend request changed everything.

Banks logged onto Facebook last year when he saw it: A request from Gibson. His accuser wanted to meet.

"I immediately slammed down the laptop," he told Leno. "I couldn't believe it was her. I actually didn't believe it was her — I thought it was somebody playing some type of sick joke."

Banks met Gibson at a private investigator's office, a meeting that was secretly recorded. Gibson told Banks she had lied. "No," she was quoted as saying, "he did not rape me."

Although Gibson did not make the same admission to prosecutors, the recording set off an almost-unbelievable chain of events that ended two weeks ago when his conviction was overturned.

"May 24 was the biggest day of my life. I was given my freedom back," Banks told Leno.

Several professional football teams, including the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs, have since offered Banks tryouts. The Arizona Diamondbacks told Banks that if football didn't work out, he could come work in the baseball team's front office.

For now, he's focused on football. According to Banks' Twitter, he's heading to Seattle after his return from New York.

"I prayed to God that, if given the opportunity to get my freedom back, then I'd meet ... halfway with any opportunity that comes from that," Banks told Leno.

His other goal? To raise money to support his mother, who sold her house, car and went into debt to cover his legal expenses.

"That is one good woman," Leno said at the end of the interview.

"Strongest woman I know," Banks said.



A 10-year nightmare over rape conviction is over

Unraveling the fabric of justice in the Brian Banks case

Brian Banks on upcoming football tryouts: 'I'll make 'em happy'

— Kate Mather