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State lawmakers approve $968,700 in claims for wrongful convictions

Lawmakers approve payment of $142,200 to former high school football star wrongly convicted of rape

State lawmakers on Monday approved legislation that would pay $968,700 to settle claims by three wrongly convicted Californians, including Brian Banks, a former star football player who served five years in prison before a young girl recanted her accusation that he had raped her.

Banks would receive $142,000 under the proposed settlement.

Banks was a 16-year-old star linebacker at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach when Wanetta Gibson, a 15-year-old classmate, accused him of raping her in 2003.

At the time, Banks insisted that their sexual contact was consensual. However, he took his attorney’s advice to plead no contest rather than risk being sentenced to 41 years to life in prison. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Gibson recanted her allegation in 2011, and Banks was exonerated in May 2012.

Banks, who was a high school player had caught the attention of USC, UCLA and other college football programs, tried out with the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons after his release from prison but was not signed. In 2014, he was hired by the National Football  League to help monitor games for problem calls by referees.

The legislation to pay the claim, which passed the state Senate unanimously Monday, now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for his consideration.

The legislation also would pay $597,200 to Susan Mellen, who was found by a court to be factually innocent after spending more than 17 years in prison on a conviction that she murdered her boyfriend.

Mellen was released last year after the Los Angeles County district attorney's office agreed with a petition by the group Innocence Matters to have the conviction overturned. A judge agreed that the trial hinged on a single witness who was a "habitual liar.”

The legislation also would pay $229,300 to Ronald Ross, found factually innocent by a court that reversed a 2006 conviction on premeditated attempted murder and assault with a firearm. The Alameda County district attorney's office concluded that false evidence was used against Ross. 

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