Former football star Brian Banks of Long Beach, California got a really raw deal. What happened to him is shocking and outrageous. A stupid, unthinking woman accused him of rape. Except in 2003, Wanetta Gibson,15, was a stupid, unthinking girl. Back then, Banks, a young black man, was a high school senior and star football player, hoping to play pro football. He was heading off to college, possibly to USC on a football scholarship. There were no witnesses to the event. His lawyer had him plead no contest to avoid 41 years in jail. He was sentenced to six years…for a crime he did not commit.
After the sentencing, Gibson’s family sued the Los Angeles school system and walked away with $1.5 million dollars.
Brian and Wanetta had been childhood friends. In fact, they used to make out in the same place in the school where Wanetta alleged the rape took place. Much of the coverage is unclear about whether there was actually intercourse. One way or another though, they were “fooling around.” The L.A. Times said it was a “consensual” encounter and that Gibson lied because she didn’t want her parents to know she was sexually active.
The California Innocence Project took Banks’ case when Gibson used Facebook to “friend” Banks upon his release from jail last year. The two met, and Banks secretly recorded the encounter. She admitted she had lied but didn’t want to confess to prosecutors because she didn’t want to have to return the settlement money. But the taped confession got his conviction overturned and his odious sex offender ankle bracelet removed. In court, it apparently took just minutes to get the case thrown out. He wept with joy. But what happens now?
Banks told ABC News that this is the first step to regaining his life, after more than he could describe, “things that I’ve been through, things that I endured.” As he tries to rebuild his life, one hopes that pro football would give him a chance.
But shouldn’t Wanetta Gibson have to suffer the consequences of having put him through the long ordeal? Most 15-year-olds do things they know they shouldn’t do. Wanetta Gibson’s wrong-doing is on a whole other level. And she was old enough to understand the implications of her lie.
When that lie means the falsely accused individual does time and has his life upended, how can society make it up to him? He can sue her for malicious prosecution or go after the state for depriving him of his rights. But he can never get back the lost years and opportunities. The burden should be on the justice system to hold the false accuser accountable. At a minimum, she should be charged with perjury.
Allegations of sexual wrongdoing are sometimes “he said/she said” cases, and, contrary to legal and moral presumptions, the accused may be viewed as guilty till proven innocent. This is one case that shouldn’t stop with the innocent exonerated, as important as that is. Wanetta Gibson should not be allowed to walk away from the consequences of what she did to Brian Banks.
I welcome your comments below. Photo AP