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Star High School Football Player Exonerated of Rape After Spending 5 Years in Prison

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Brian Banks was a high school football star with big dreams of going to play for USC and maybe even the NFL. But at age 16 one of his classmates at Long Beach Poly High School falsely accused him of kidnapping and raping her—an accusation that derailed his life for a decade, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.

There was no evidence and no witnesses in the case—it was his own word against hers. Banks' attorney advised him that in this sort of case the odds were stacked against him. Banks told TODAY that this is what he said his lawyer told him:

"You can go into that courtroom in front of a jury. You're a big black teenager, they're going to automatically assume you're guilty and you'll be facing 41 years to life. What do you want to do?"

He took the plea deal and served out his five years in prison. He had to register as a sex offender and wear an ankle bracelet when he finally got out.But recently his accuser Wanetta Gibson friended him on Facebook and agreed to meet up with him and a private investigator. She seemed to feel bad that she had killed his shot at having a career in football, and she admitted on tape that she made the whole thing up (and TODAY has the video here). With that evidence, the Innocence Project took on his case and found even more evidence to back up his claims of innocence. He was fully exonerated in the case this Thursday at age 26—ten years after the initial accusation.

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Gibson sued her high school and won a $750,000 claim at the time. But experts told the Times it's likely that she won't have to pay it back, since she has since recanted making a false accusation—and because she doesn't have the money to give back. It's not clear if she'll face any consequences. Banks isn't suing her but he is suing the state for the time he spent in prison. He's asking for $100 each day he spent wrongfully incarcerated.