In training to once again try out for the NFL, Brian Banks is in great shape! "But not the kind of shape to walk 600 miles" he laughs. That trek is being taken up by his attorney from California Innocence Project. The goal is to bring attention to a handful of cases attorney Justin Brooks calls "wrongful convictions." Just last May Banks was exonerated. The former high school football star was cleared of sexually assaulting a classmate. While it was welcome news, Banks broke down as he'd already spent five years in prison and five years on parole. On that day, he went from "sex predator" to "innocent."
I caught up with Banks as he and Brooks embark on this effort to free others wrongfully behind bars. Brooks plans to walk from his home in San Diego to Sacramento. Banks will join him at Southern California stops along the way. Brooks says he'll carry with him a stack of cases and ask California's Governor for clemency. Brooks says he is at a dead end with these cases.
Banks' case was one of 2000 sent to California Innocence Project each year. The non-profit took it up after they say the victim Facebook friended Banks and recanted while caught on camera. Plus, Brooks says there was no DNA in a rape kit. He says part of the problem is "95% of all criminal cases end up in a plea." Banks was 16 years old when he was given ten minutes to take a plea bargain of five years or risk going to trial, being convicted, and sentenced to forty years in prison. It was a tough ten years. Banks said even after being freed it was tough to find work and he was a registered sex offender.
On this day the two met up in Long Beach to bring attention to the matter. They even power walked past the very courthouse where Banks was sentenced. It's the same courthouse where the world watched as he was exonerated. At 28 years old now, Banks says the courthouse "no longer has a hold on him like it did."
Banks' story and then his goal to get into the NFL kept his name in the news last year. He made it to the try-outs with the Seattle Seahawks. He's back in training for a run at the pros this year.
As I joined them in the power walk it was obvious Banks now has a bit of a fan club in Long Beach. He'd been a high school football star with a shot at USC. Two girls recognized him from the news, chatted, and gave him hug. Banks is working on a documentary of his life story. www.brianbanks.org/
Here's more on the California Innocence and its April 27 march.
Starting April 27, 2013, attorneys, students, exonerees, and family members of the wrongfully convicted will join hands in a march from San Diego to Sacramento. We will start at California Western School of Law and finish at the Governor's office roughly 55 days later.
Join us on this 600+ mile freedom march across the state. The march will include 11 rallies and 2 public walking days.
The California Innocence Project (CIP) is a law school clinical program at California Western School of Law dedicated to releasing wrongfully convicted inmates and providing an outstanding educational experience to the students enrolled in the clinic.