Brian Banks: A Family Re-United
By: Christine Devine
Mar 25, 2013
Brian Banks continues to tell his story. It’s aired on national news, on Jay Leno, even 60-Minutes. But none have what I witnessed when welcomed into his mother’s home.
It’s been less than a year since Banks was cleared of a crime that sent him to prison for five years and on parole for another five. Thanks to the California Innocence Project he walked out of a courtroom a truly free man, exonerated of a crime he says never happened. His mom says she’s still “grinning from ear to ear.”
While it was among the first times his mom, Leomia Myers, was talking in depth about it, it was his baby brother who stunned and silenced mom’s living room. Brandon broke down, sobbing over what was lost and what could have been. His mom told me these brothers had never had this conversation. The two embraced long and hard with Brandon saying “I love you, man.”
Brian Banks was just 16, and a promising football recruit, when a high school classmate accused him of kidnapping and rape while hooking up on campus during summer school. Banks had always insisted he was innocent. His case went from juvenile court to adult. Instead of facing 41 years in prison if convicted, he took a plea which meant five years in prison, five years parole, and life as a registered sex offender.
When the system failed Banks, his entire family suffered. His mom says it was “a mother’s worst nightmare.” The plea “happened so fast” she says. Banks was given just ten minutes to accept and not allowed to talk to his mother.
Brandon, meanwhile, says he continued to take the calls from colleges across the country interested in the Long Beach Poly High football star. Says Brandon as tears rolled down his face “he could have gone to ANY school. I know, ’cause I took the calls.” Banks had already been offered a full-ride scholarship from USC says ESPN. As the family watched a football game and chatted happily it was clear USC is still their favorite team.
As the deal for exoneration was in the works his mom says she “kept calling and asking him, are you sure? I just couldn’t believe it.” His mom had been through her own hell. She blames the system, the judge, the girl, the girl’s mother, even her own attorney. His accuser received a $750,000 settlement from the school.
The nightmare ended ten years later, when Banks says his accuser hit him up on Facebook and wanted to get together to “let bygones be bygones.” That meeting caught on tape led the California Innocence Project to take his case. Her story had changed. There was no DNA evidence. In May of 2012 Banks was exonerated by the same judge, the same D.A.’s office and in the same courtroom where he was convicted. His attorney, Justin Brooks clasped his hands high in the air that day and exclaimed “today he’s been labeled innocent.” Through his work with the California Innocence Project he’s learned “95% of all criminal cases end in a plea.” The California Innocence Project is working on a march this spring to bring attention to others wrongly imprisoned. Forever grateful, Banks says he too will take part.
As the Brandon searched mom’s fridge for leftovers it was clear this was a family happy to spend time together. Sister Minah was home from college.
Banks confided the healing is still a work in progress.
Like last year, he will once again try out for the NFL this spring. Banks is also working on a documentary and a book. His mom smiles confidently and says “the sky’s the limit for him.” His slogan: “Wrongly Accused. Wrongly Convicted. Exonerated. Unbroken.”