Exonerated California Man Restarts Life, Dreams Of Playing In NFL

By: CNN, Posted by Chelsey Moran
By: CNN, Posted by Chelsey Moran

(CNN) -- Brian Banks was on "cloud 10" Friday, the first full day of the rest of his life, after he was exonerated for a rape he did not commit.

"Today, it started to sink in a little more," Banks told CNN's Ashleigh Banfield. "I am overwhelmed. I feel great."

At age 17, fearing a potentially long sentence, the college football prospect followed the advice of his attorney and pleaded no contest to assaulting a Long Beach, California, high school classmate in 2002.

Banks maintained his innocence throughout nearly six years of imprisonment, subsequent probation and registration as a sex offender.

The case took an incredible twist when the alleged victim sent a Facebook friend request to Banks in early 2011.

According to the California Innocence Project, the woman later admitted that Banks had not kidnapped or raped her during a consensual encounter at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where Banks was a middle linebacker with a scholarship offer from the University of Southern California.

An emotional Banks, 26, lowered his head and fought back tears Thursday when prosecutors said they were moving to have the conviction dismissed.

"We do not believe Mr. Banks did the crime he pled guilty to," Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira said after court. "Justice has been served."

A judge concurred and tossed the conviction.

"I was overcome with relief but reminded of the pain and suffering I went through in prison and parole," Banks said. "All the false accusations against me."

Banks put bitterness aside, though, expressing no interest in taking legal action against the woman who recanted.

"For me, I just want to be positive. I want to be in a better position than what I was yesterday," Banks said. "The only way that can happen is by eliminating any negative ill will or feelings toward anyone."

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said Friday that it is not currently involved in any investigation of the woman.

"Our standard is beyond a reasonable doubt," spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said, referring further questions to Long Beach police.

Police spokeswoman Lisa Massacani said Friday that there was no current investigation.

According to CNN Los Angeles affiliate KTLA, the accuser won a $1.5 million settlement in a civil suit against the Long Beach Unified School District. She claimed that the school's lax security provided an unsafe environment that led to the alleged rape.

It was not clear whether the school district will try to recoup any of the settlement. A message seeking comment was not immediately returned.

The California Innocence Project took up Banks' case and went to court on his behalf, saying he and the woman never had sexual intercourse. The alleged victim expressed concern about having to return money she received in the civil suit, the group said.

The group's director, Justin Brooks, said the Banks case is not uncommon. "Plea bargains have become the 95% solution."

"Brian has learned that anger is going to eat you up," Brooks said. "If we hadn't gotten that recantation, Brian would have gone through this the rest of his life."

Although he did not have the opportunity to play college football, Banks maintains a dream of playing for the National Football League.

"I'm hoping to draw the attention of some team that takes interest in my story, takes interest in my hard work and gives me an opportunity," he told KTLA.


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