TODAY | May 25, 2012
>> former high school football star in california. cleared of a rape and kidnapping conviction that derailed his life ten years ago. a turn of events set in motion when his accuser reached out to him on facebook. we'll talk to him exclusively in just a moment. but first, nbc's kristen dahlgren has the story. kristen , good morning.
>> good morning, ann. yeah, this is a redemption ten long years in the making. brian banks was just 16 when he went to jail. now 26, he has finally been cleared of ever committing a crime. so often in a courtroom tears symbolize the loss of freedom.
>> the people's motion to dismiss this case.
>> reporter: but for brian banks these tears are about getting his freedom back. ten years ago, banks was a superstar in waiting. a linebacker on the power house long beach polytechnic high school team, looking at a full scholarship to usc and possibly an nfl career. but at age 16, banks was accused of kidnapping and raping a classmate. there was no dna evidence . no witnesses. just he said/she said. his lawyer told banks he had a choice. plead no contest in exchange for a lighter sentence, or go to trial.
>> either 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?
>> reporter: banks took the plea bargain, and in an instant his football dreams were replaced by a 6x6 cell.
>> i think the system failed. failed brian . you know, i don't think there was a sufficient investigation into the case.
>> reporter: banks served five years in prison, paroled in 2008 at age 22. he was labeled a sex offender , and forced to wear an ankle bracelet.
>> like branded. like somebody just put a brand on you like this. sex offender .
>> reporter: things looked bleak. until february of last year when banks says he received a facebook friend request from his accuser. she wanted to let bygones be bygones. they met a day later and as a private investigator recorded this conversation, gibson admitted her accusations were false.
>> did he rape you?
>> no, he did not.
>> did he kidnap you?
>> reporter: the california innocence project took the case. the district attorney looked at the inconsistency in gibson 's story. and on thursday, conceded to the petition for banks ' freedom. now 26 and completely free, banks is looking to reclaim his life. including his visions of the nfl . knowing now that even what can seem like an impossible dream --
>> my only dream in the world was to just be free, and to have the same opportunity as everybody here.
>> reporter: -- sometimes comes true. now banks says that his accuser didn't want to come forward because she received a settlement from the school district . nbc news reached out to gibson for comment but we were unable to reach her.
>> kristen dahlgren, thank you so much. brian banks is now joining us exclusively this morning. brian , good morning to you.
>> great morning to you.
>> great morning to you. that's the first thing you're going to say.
>> for sure.
>> you know, you did something some might say many might say was impossible. you cleared your name ten years after you pleaded no contest to a heinous crime. describe that moment. when you heard in court that your name had been cleared.
>> wow. you know, i just feel with so many different emotions, just overwhelmed with finally hearing those words, and knowing that this whole ordeal is put to rest. it was bittersweet, you know. happy to be free now, happy to clear my name, but also very much in a reflective state, and just remembering everything i've been through to get to this point.
>> hmm. you know, one of the things that you went through is you heard, as we heard in this last report from juaneta gibson , she finally admitted that the story that she told up to now has been that that basically you had not even had sex together, that she told you that she wouldn't go to authorities, however, because that her family had been awarded $1.5 million. she admitted that she made the story up. what do you think should happen to her? should she face prosecution, do you think?
>> you know, i haven't given it much thought. i do believe that everyone should be responsible for their actions. if that action warrants some type of consequence, then i feel that, you know, it's justified. but as far as what should happen to her, i really haven't given it much thought at all.
>> you haven't.
>> it's surprising to hear you say that. some might want, or they may want revenge.
>> no, you know. you -- it's easy to have those feelings initially when you first hear the story. i've been dealing with this now for ten years, and i've had my moments where i was very angry, and very vengeful. but i know it was best for me to try and move forward in a positive manner, and for the betterment of me. it hurts no one but myself to hang onto that type of negative energy . and it will only keep me in a stagnant position. and i always want to better myself as a person, regardless of the situation that i'm in.
>> a lot of people would say listening to what happened to you that you definitely deserve another chance at your dream. you dreamed of being an nfl football player, you know, you got a free ride , a straight ride to usc, i'm wondering what you would say to any nfl coach listening right now.
>> give me an opportunity and let me show you what i can -- what i can produce. i think that any team that gave me -- that gives me an opportunity will be really impressed with what i can do despite all of what i've been through these past ten years.
>> i wonder if you would say anything about what you would want to change about the system that may have failed you, as we just heard in the prior report. how do you think things should change so that this does not happen to anyone else, brian ?
>> i definitely feel that further investigations in cases like this are definitely necessary, especially when it involves minors. children. you know. i think i was quick to be judged judged, rather than the time needed to, you know, be put in for an investigation to see what actually really happened. it was, you know, my story against hers. and unfortunately my story was never heard at the time.
>> wow, it's amazing to hear your story. i hope that someone with the nfl is listening. good luck to you, brian , as you begin your new life.
>> thank you so much. appreciate you having me.
>> i hope not only on nfl coach is listening, anybody who just wants to give a young man a great opportunity, even if the nfl thing doesn't work out. this is a guy who clearly deserves it.