Brian Banks couldn’t hold back the tears as he was exonerated of a rape conviction that cost him five years in prison.
Tasting the free air for the first time in five years, Banks walked outside the courthouse and seized the moment of freedom he had dreamed of for so long saying, "This is the first step in reinventing my life." Banks promised to pursue his interrupted dream of playing pro football.
It was the plan he left outside a prison door when he pleaded no contest to a childhood friend's false accusation of rape in 2002, a claim she has now recanted.
As reported by the Associated Press:
The hearing that changed Banks' life took only minutes. Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira said his office conceded the case should be dismissed. Superior Court Judge Mark C. Kim concurred and quickly announced it was over.
One of his first moves was to report to the probation office to have the electronic monitoring ankle bracelet removed - a felon no longer.
At 26, Banks said he is ready to move forward and is trying not to be angry.
"I couldn't ask for more today," he told reporters. "But there is always the question of why did it have to happen in the first place? Why wasn't I heard with the truth of what happened when I was 16?"
Even after he was released from prison, he could not get work because he was a registered sex offender and had a felony record.
Before the charges, Banks was a star middle linebacker at Long Beach Polytechnic High School and was attracting interest from college football powerhouses as the University of Southern California, Ohio State University and the University of Michigan, according to the website Rivals.com, which tracks the recruiting of high school football and basketball players.
He verbally agreed to a full scholarship at USC.
Then, a teenage girl he had known since childhood claimed he had raped her. He was arrested and, on advice of counsel, pleaded no contest to rape and an enhancement of kidnapping in order to avoid a possible life sentence if tried by a jury.
Bank's story is truly a triumph for the California Innocence Project, which took up his case and illustrates the growing trend toward taking a new look at convictions. But Justin Brooks, head of the program at California Western University in San Diego, said this was the first case he had championed for someone already out of prison. He felt it was not too late to right a wrong for Banks and turn his life around.
As for Bank’s NFL hopes, at the press conferences that followed the court hearing, Brooks appealed to NFL teams to give Banks a chance. He said Banks has been training six days a week to get in shape for the career he wants.
"He has the speed and the strength. He certainly has the heart," Brooks said. "I hope he gets the attention of people in the sports world."
Gil Brandt, an NFL draft consultant, said Banks would be eligible to sign with any team that might show interest. However, his years away from the game will be hard to overcome.