In October of 2013, my husband and I attended a Benefit for Innocence, an annual gala hosted by the Innocence Project of Minnesota along with 20+ other supporters of the Wisconsin paper mill case. The Benefit was held at the (former) Graves Hotel in Downtown Minneapolis. I stood alone canvasing the reception room, touting a small white paper sack containing special gifts. I was excited but a little nervous, too. I had started preparing for this moment months ago. I’d made a solemn promise to deliver some precious cargo, in person that evening. I was on a mission to give these items to the keynote speaker-an exoneree and was determined to keep that promise.
I watched silently and nervously for the arrival of Brian Banks who suddenly appeared and was standing fifteen feet from me. The moment was at hand. This was my chance. I approached him and after introducing myself, I blurted out that I had come bearing gifts. His gracious look despite my awkwardness spoke volumes. I relaxed but only for a moment as I could hardly contain my excitement in showing him these treasures!
Joan Treppa with exoneree Brian Banks
To this exoneree my sincere gesture was appreciated and he was visibly moved. Brian Banks’ story is quite tragic. He ended up in prison because of a lie told about him by someone he trusted…
Brian Banks was accused, arrested and later charged with two counts of forcible rape and one count of sodomy with a special circumstance of kidnapping. The year was 2002. He was sixteen years old with a dream of a lifetime waiting at his doorstep. Brian was, “…a blossoming football star and had verbally accepted a four-year scholarship to play at the University of Southern California.” But instead, he was falsely accused of rape. The only place Brian was going, was to prison, forcing him to postpone, even abandon any chance of pursuing a career in professional football. He was 26 years old when the California Innocence Project successfully aided in his exoneration in 2011. Brian actively tried once again to resume his football dream. He ultimately did not succeed.
People tell lies. It happens all of the time. But how does one reconcile being sent to prison because of one? 25% of all exonerations regarding a rape charge end up being resolved because the accuser knowingly makes a false statement and later recants. In this case the accuser admitted during a video-taped interview that she had lied. But not before Brian had served five years in prison. Never a thought was given to the consequences of her actions and what her accusations meant for him. After he was released, her aspirations were to reconnect and let bygones be bygones! And charges, perjury or otherwise, were never brought against her.
At the Benefit, Brian said he had spent a lot of time feeling angry over what happened to him. But he was unwilling to waste time on those emotions any longer. In fact, he can now be found working with the Innocence Project, helping other wrongfully convicted people regain their freedom. And he does it with the same passion as when he was cradling a football.
Oh, and what was in that little white paper sack that was so important? It was the book, The Monfils Conspiracy, which documents the Wisconsin case I advocate for. Accompanying the book were letters sealed inside five envelopes with return addresses from four separate Wisconsin prisons with the names and ID numbers of, Reynold Moore, Dale Basten, Michael Hirn, Keith Kutska and Michael Johnson, all addressed to Mr. Brian Banks…