Happy New Year! And for Brian Banks it is indeed a NEW Year! He rang in 2013 in Las Vegas with a best buddy. Not only was he celebrating the end of 2012 he was still relishing in his new found freedom. An Instagram (Instagram: ok_banks) picture showed off a beaming Banks and his buddy Freddie, the start to their night out on the town.
Banks made national news last spring when the courts cleared his name of kidnapping and sexual assault. "Today, he's been labeled innocent" beamed his attorney from the California Innocence Project. Banks is now on a mission to help others wrongfully behind bars and is a spokesman of sorts for the Innocence Project. The San Diego non-profit took up his case after the accuser was caught on tape recanting.
It was a glorious day last May for Banks and his family. Banks had been a promising high school football star when this all went down. The accusation of rape by a fellow classmate crushed his dream to play ball at USC. Banks spent five years in prison and five on parole before being exonerated. Exoneration meant no more ankle bracelet, no more label as a sexual predator, no more restrictions that come with being a sex offender. He was truly a free man for the first time in ten years.
That freedom meant for some serious celebration over the holidays. His mother hosted Thanksgiving for the family. Her husband, Brian, his sister home from college, and his baby brother. The emotion was thick as the family enjoyed each other's company. There was sweet potato pie, football and Brian's deep, infectious laugh. I asked his mom Leomia about the obvious reason she might feel grateful on this holiday. "Mine's obvious! We've been still smiling ear to ear."
The emotion is also raw and real. Brian's younger brother Brandon broke down when I asked him to tell his side of the story. Tears flowed as he acknowledged his brother's lost youth. It was a family's loss, a ten year nightmare. I asked if Brian was his hero. "To this day, to this day" cried Brandon. The 27-year-old is taking his story across the nation.
He got to see Washington D.C. in December and the big apple all decked out for the Christmas. Banks went to D.C. with the Innocence Project to meet with lawmakers and to N.Y. to meet with book publishers. His story aired on 60-Minutes. He also has a documentary in the works.