Brian Banks, the star football linebacker who received a full scholarship to USC before being falsely accused of rape and having to spend over a decade behind bars, is finally getting the chance to tell his story.
Following his memoir, What Set Me Free, Brian's story is being made into a movie — Brian Banks — which premieres August 9. But what happened to Brian Banks' accuser, Wanetta Gibson? At 15, she won $1.5 million for her accusation.
Keep reading to find out.
Brian Banks' devastating, but inspiring, true story.
Before you hit up cinemas to watch Brian Banks, you might want to know about the true story that inspired the star-studded cast — including Aldis Hodge, Morgan Freeman, and This Is Us's Melanie Liburd — to sign on.
Of course, chances are you're at least somewhat familiar with the American justice system, wherein people are more often than not presumed guilty — rather than presumed innocent until proven otherwise. This is quite literally what happened in 2002 to Brian, when he went to a secluded area of his high school to make out with Wanetta Gibson, his girlfriend at the time.
The two had their make-out session, but no intercourse was involved with the interaction. Nevertheless, later that day, a fleet of cop cars pulled up to Long Beach's Polytechnic High School, where Brian attended. to arrest him for the rape of Wanetta Gibson.
From that moment, the 17-year-old, who was about to matriculate at USC on full scholarship and pursue a professional NFL career, had his life upended. He was held in jail for a year, despite the lack of DNA evidence, until his lawyer presented him with a crushing option. "I was walking into court to select a jury to go to trial," Brian explained in an interview with the Innocence Project.
"I was facing 41 years to life at this time," he says. "Before I could get to trial, my lawyer pulled me into an interview room... And she sat me down with this huge grin on her face as I sat on the other side of the glass. And she began to tell me that she came up with this amazing deal with the District Attorney's office."
The deal was as follows: "If I pled no contest to one count of sexual assault, I would undergo what's called a 90-day observation at Chino State Prison," he explained. "My lawyer on this day looked me square in my eyes and said, 'Brian, I guarantee you will get that probation. You're going to talk to the counselors... they're going to side with you. You will get that favorable report."
"But if you walk in there right now and start selecting a jury, I can guarantee you that you're going to end up selecting a jury that's going to be an all-white jury and they're going to find you guilty because you're a big black teenager," Brian recalls the lawyer saying.
At only 17 years old and without the ability to consult his mother, Brian was given 10 minutes to make a call on this impossible dilemma: essentially plead guilty to a crime he didn't commit, or risk facing life behind bars. In the end, unwilling to take a chance on 41 years to life, he took his attorney's deal. But instead of getting the probation she promised, he got the maximum sentence: five years in prison.
Once released, he had to register as a sex offender, wear an ankle monitor, and essentially live his life as a prisoner on the outside for a crime he didn't commit. Eventually, he would go on to play in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons, so there is a bit of a happy ending to look forward to.
But what happened to Brian Banks' accuser?
You'll have to watch Brian Banks to see how the rest of those years unfolded for Brian and to understand how he made the leap from prison cell to the NFL, but you should know that in 2011, while he was still on parole, Brian received a Facebook friend request from his accuser, Wanetta Gibson.
"I remember closing the laptop, like real quick and just thinking like, 'What did I just see'," he told CBS. Brian asked Wanetta to meet at a private investigator's office, and that's where her confession that the rape was all fabricated came out. To everyone's astonishment, it was also caught on tape.
On the one hand, Wanetta wanted to help clear Brian's name. "I will go through with helping you," she says during the taped confession. But on the other hand, "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." She explained that Wanetta and her mother, Wanda Rhodes, sued the Long Beach school district for the "lax security" that "allowed" her rape — which she admits never occurred — to take place. Admitting she made it up would also be admitting to fraud.
The school district settled the lawsuit by paying Wanetta and Wanda $1.5 million. Because she feared having to repay the money she received, Wanetta refused to repeat her story in court to exonerate Brian. Thankfully, the video did that work for her, and in 2012, Brian was cleared of all charges.
As for Wanetta, she ran through the $1.5 million she had, "buying cars, big screen TVs, and all sorts of things," as one neighbor recalled, and public records show she and her mother are in terrible debt — moving from place to place to try and stay ahead of debt collectors.
In June of 2013, she was ordered to pay the Long Beach Unified School District $2.6 million, but her whereabouts today are unknown, and we have trouble imagining she'll be able to come up with these funds. In a way, it's like she and Wanda got away with their revolting crime.
Brian Banks is playing at a theater near you.
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