As Brian Banks stepped on the down escalator of the Long Beach courthouse Thursday, his lawyer presented him with a black sweatshirt with one word on it: "Innocent."
Banks spent seven years behind bars for rape and kidnapping after a 2002 encounter at his high school, Long Beach Polytechnic, where at the time Banks was a star football player. The witness eventually recanted her testimony against him, but his name was not cleared until a Long Beach judge dismissed the charges against him Thursday morning. Banks' shoulders shook and he cried as the judge ruled in his favor.
Later, Banks addressed reporters outside the courthouse, clearly emotional. "I don't have the answers to why this happened, why I was supposed to go through what I went through," said Banks, who spent more than five years in youth prison. "But I'm here today and I remain unbroken. I set my heart out to prove my innocence by any means necessary. And we did that today."
Banks said he has no anger towards the woman who falsely accused him of rape. She received a $1.5-million settlement from Long Beach Unified School District after suing over safety concerns.
Banks' girlfriend of a year-and-a-half, Pamela Soladar, said Banks was still wearing the ankle bracelet placed on sex offenders on parole in California. Soladar said Banks is always worried people notice the bracelet. On Wednesday, having his pants tailored for court, Soladar said Banks was agitated, thinking the tailor would see the bracelet.
"Imagine that," she said. "It's the day before court, he knows it's all going to be over soon, and it was still devastating for him for anybody to see it."
Soladar met Banks not long after he was released on parole. She said he was upfront about his legal situation and somehow she knew she could trust him.
"My reaction was, ok," she said. "That's not going to stop me. You're the most amazing man I've ever met in my life."
His lawyers said Banks will be able to take off the bracelet when his paperwork goes through in the next couple of days.
Justin Brooks, of the California Innocence Project, said this was the first time the organization had taken up a case after the sentence had already been served. It was also notable because of the active participation of the LA District Attorney's Office in clearing Banks' name.
During today's hearing, representatives from the office joined Banks in asking the judge to dismiss the charges against him, after the DA's office reviewed his case.
Brooks thanked the office. "That's something that the government should be working together with us on," he said. "There are many innocent people in prison."