PUBLISHED: 08:59 EST, 20 September 2012 | UPDATED: 09:08 EST, 20 September 2012
- Brian Banks, 26, has signed with Las Vegas Locomotives months
- Coach: ‘We’re pleased to give him a chance he was denied years ago’
- Exonerated in May after decade-long rape and kidnap case
- Victim had contacted him on Facebook to say it never happened
A one-time high school football star who spent more than five years behind bars after he was falsely accused of rape has signed with a professional football team.
Brian Banks, a 26-year-old linebacker from Long Beach, California, has signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League just four months after he was exonerated.
Locomotives coach Jim Fassel, who confirmed the news, said the team is pleased to give Banks ‘an opportunity in football that was denied him years ago’.
Win: Brian Banks, pictured with his mother after he was exonerated in May, has signed with a UFL team
‘As I pursue the #NFL, the #UFL will be a vessel to gain experience, and prepare me for a possible mid season pick up or next NFL season!’ Banks wrote on Twitter.
Banks was 16 and had just been offered a scholarship to USC when Wanetta Gibson accused him of sexual assault and kidnapping in 2002.
He was on the way to the school office to talk about his college applications when he bumped into Gibson, a fellow student, and they went to a stairwell to make out, his attorney Justin Brooks said.
He explained that Banks said something to upset Gibson and they parted on bad terms. She later accused him of kidnapping her, dragging her across the school and raping her in the stairwell.
Success: Banks, pictured during his tryouts for the Seattle Seahawks, signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives
Future: The team said they were glad to give Banks the opportunity he should have had years ago
Determined: Banks never gave up on his dream to play football and had been in full training since October
Investigators tested her but found no physical evidence of rape, Brooks said. Banks maintained they had not had sex and all sexual contact had been consensual.
Yet his then-lawyer encouraged the promising student to plead no contest to the kidnap and rape charges, warning Banks he could get 41 years to life in prison if convicted.
Expecting he would serve just 18 months instead, he followed the advice and pleaded no contest – and was put behind bars for nearly six years – but he never lost sight of his NFL dream.
He told ESPN he has been seriously training since last October,: ‘After all I’ve been through these last 10 years, I can still do some things that will impress you.’
He was exonerated in May after Gibson added him as a friend on Facebook when he left prison with a tag a few months earlier. In a message, she explained she wanted to ‘let bygones be bygones’.
Freed: A one-time promising football star, Brian Banks, weeps after his rape conviction was dismissed in court. He was just 16 when a childhood friend accused him of kidnapping and raping her at school
A life shattered: Banks had been recruited by colleges and offered scholarships before the accusation
Brooks said his client met Gibson and caught her on video saying there there had been no kidnap and no rape, and would help him clear his record.
Yet she refused to repeat the story to prosecutors as she feared she would have to return a $1.5 million payment she won after her mother brought a suit against Long Beach Schools.
She was quoted as telling Banks: ‘I will go through with helping you but it’s like at the same time all that money they gave us, I mean gave me, I don’t want to have to pay it back.’
The Los Angeles Times also reported that Gibson had been worried the admission would affect her relationship with her two children, now aged four and five.
The 26-year-old has said he does not plan to pursue legal action against his accuser, and Los Angeles prosecutors have said it is unlikely Gibson will be charged with making false accusations.
Remorse: Wanetta Gibson, pictured, contacted Banks to say he had not raped her – but would not admit it to prosecutors as she feared she would have to pay back $1.5 million won in a case against the school
Future: Banks has signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives – running back Marcel Shipp is pictured centre
After the exoneration, Banks added: ‘My only dream in the world is just to be free… For years, I felt like a toy with the switch cut off, sitting on the shelf.’
Once he was cleared, Banks received tryout invitations from the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks.
The Locomotives confirmed his signing in a statement on Wednesday and will hold a press conference with Banks on Thursday to announce the signing.
The league opens play next Wednesday with Fassell’s Locomotives taking on the Virginia Destroyers, coached by former NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer.