RENTON, Wash. – A man who spent five years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of rape got a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks Thursday and impressed coach Pete Carroll enough that he will be back next week for the team’s minicamp.
Brian Banks, 26, was accused of rape and kidnapping when he was 16-years-old. He was convicted in 2003 and sent to prison, but was exonerated last month after the accuser admitted on tape that she lied.
During a press conference at Seahawks Headquarters, Banks said Thursday was the second best day of his life.
“May 24, the day of my exoneration, and just today. To be out here on this field. To work out with the Seahawks. To be given an opportunity to have a tryout. I really don’t have words for it. It’s just a dream come true,” said Banks.
“This is a great illustration for us of why people deserve a second chance," said Carroll."And, because of what he’s overcome and because what lies ahead for him in his life, this is just one step but it is a step that he’s been dreaming about for a long time. It’s just such a great illustration about not giving up.”
Banks' tryout was scheduled during one of Seattle's OTA workouts, but the OTA was taken away by the league because Seattle had violated terms of the collective bargaining agreement banning live contact.
But Banks' tryout still took place. It was not open to media.
Carroll says he's talked to Banks a couple of times this week and says he's excited about the opportunity. Carroll says if Banks does well, the Seahawks will invite him to next week's minicamp.
Banks was a one-time high school star at Long Beach Poly. Banks said Rivals.com had ranked him the 11th best recruit in the nation. Ten years ago, Carroll recruited him to play for USC.
“We were starting the recruiting process with him way back when as he was finishing up his junior year and we had seen him in springtime and kind of liked what we saw and we were excited about recruiting him. But soon after, he ran into his problems and he never was able to get back for his senior year of football so we kind of lost track of him and we really lost track of the story until it resurfaced here for us,” said Carroll.
Before leaving California Wednesday night, Banks tweeted “I haven’t flown in 15 years!! And have only done it once… Respect your freedom. #cherishTheSmallThings we’re off!”
In an interview on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” Wednesday, Banks said he knew his accuser from middle school, but the two had not dated.
“I still, to this day, don’t really know (why she lied). I can assume a few things,” said Banks.
Banks said there was no DNA evidence linking him to the alleged crime. His mother sold her home and car and borrowed money from friends and family to hire an attorney. Banks said the attorney wanted him to agree to a plea deal.
“I guess that’s just how the system works,” said Banks. “If you’re going to fight against the charges that are put against you, they want to try and entice you with some type of deal to avoid any trial.”
Banks said his attorney approached him with a tough decision: Agree to a plea deal with possible 3-to-6 months of probation or go to trial and face 41 years-to-life in prison if convicted. He said the attorney told him the jury would probably assume he was guilty because he was a big, black teenager.
Banks also said he was given ten minutes to make up his mind and wasn’t allowed to talk to his parents about it.
Ultimately, Banks pleaded no contest to rape, but was sentenced to six years in prison. The girl’s family sued the school district for $1.5 million. The L.A. Times reported the accuser, Wanetta Gibson, would likely keep a $750,000 settlement and that prosecutors may not charge her for making false statements, saying it would be a tough case to prove.
Parole harder than prison
Banks served five years in prison and five years on parole. He said being out in the real world was harder than behind bars. Banks was a registered sex offender. He was required to wear a GPS monitoring device on his ankle, couldn’t live within 2,000 feet of a school or park, had a midnight curfew and could not leave the state.
“I was pretty much stuck in L.A. County with no opportunity of trying to find work. No one wanted to hire me. Humiliating having this thing on my ankle and just trying to be normal,” said Banks.
How he cleared his name
Banks said he saw an opportunity to prove his innocence when his accuser requested to friend him on Facebook.
“She was real adamant about wanting to reconnect. In her words that ‘bygones be bygones,’” said Banks.
The two set up a time to meet. Knowing that he was putting his freedom at risk by making contact with the woman, Banks had the meeting recorded at the office of brother’s father, a private investigator. Banks said the woman admitted she lied.
Banks sent the information to the California Innocence Project, which helped him clear his name. The same judge that sentenced Banks to prison exonerated him May 24.
Banks was introduced for the interview as Leno’s band played Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.” He wore a blue, hooded sweatshirt with a picture of a California license plate reading “XONR8.”
A documentary about Banks is being produced called “The Brian Banks Story.” Donations can be made at the Brian Banks website.
Information from the Associated Press contained in this report.