Lawmakers OK $968,400 for 3 wrongful convictions

Lawmakers OK $968,400 for wrongly convicted trio, including former football star Brian Banks

The Assembly on Monday approved legislation that would pay $968,400 to settle claims by three people who were erroneously convicted of crimes, including Brian Banks, a former football star at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach who spent five years in prison before a young girl recanted her accusation that he raped her.

Banks would get $142,000 under the proposed settlement after a court issued a finding of factual innocence in his case.

Banks was 16 in 2003, when a 15-year-old classmate, Wanetta Gibson, accused him of raping her.

Banks insisted then that his sexual contact with his classmate in a school building 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 and served five years.

In 2011, after Gibson recanted her allegation, Banks filed a habeas corpus petition and the court granted it a year later, reversing the rape conviction and all charges were dismissed.

Banks, who was signed briefly by the Atlanta Falcons after his release from prison, has been hired by the National Football League’s department of operations, where he monitors games for problem calls by referees.

The former football player announced on Twitter that Lee Daniels, the creator of the television show “Empire” may make a movie about Banks’ life.

The bill approved by the Assembly and sent to the Senate for consideration would also 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.

Last year, Mellen was released after the Los Angeles County district attorney's office agreed with a petition by the group Innocence Matters to have the conviction tossed. A judge agreed that the trial hinged on a single witness who was a "habitual liar" and claimed Mellen had confessed involvement in the crime.

The legislation would also pay $229,300 to Ronald Ross, who was 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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