Exonerated linebacker Banks participates in 49ers minicamp

Published: Tuesday, Jun. 19, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 20, 2012 - 12:00 am

SANTA CLARA – Brian Banks has proven his innocence. Now he's trying to prove he belongs in the NFL.

Banks, the 26-year-old linebacker wrongfully incarcerated for five years, Monday participated in a 49ers rookie minicamp that will last through Wednesday. If he doesn't have a contract offer by then, he plans to head to Southern California to get into NFL shape with a trainer.

The three-day session in Santa Clara is the longest stretch Banks has spent with a team. He has had one-day workouts with the Seahawks, Chargers and Chiefs this month.

Other teams – including the Vikings, Redskins, Falcons and Giants – have inquired about the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Banks. He participated in a two-day minicamp with Seattle, which looked at him as an inside linebacker.

The 49ers did not make Banks available for interviews, and this minicamp is closed to the media.

It's not known which position the 49ers envision Banks playing, but they have holes at inside and outside linebacker.

Their only rookie inside linebacker, undrafted Joe Holland, suffered a foot injury during the recent full-squad minicamp and was seen in a walking boot last week.

The injury is not expected to keep Holland out long, and he's expected back for training camp, which begins in late July.

Two rookie outside linebackers, Darius Fleming and Cam Johnson, are out with knee injuries. Fleming, a fifth-round pick, tore a knee ligament in May and likely is out for the season. Johnson, a seventh-round choice, had a minor procedure this month and is expected back for training camp.

The Seahawks would be a poetic fit for Banks.

Coach Pete Carroll recruited Banks out of Long Beach Poly High School 10 years ago, before Banks was accused of raping a classmate in a school stairwell.

Banks, 17 at the time, was tried as an adult and pleaded no contest to avoid a sentence of 41 years to life. He said his defense attorney at the time encouraged him to take a plea deal.

" 'When you go into that courtroom, the jury is going to see a big, black teenager, and you're automatically going to be assumed guilty,' " Banks said his attorney told him in an interview he did with CBS News in Los Angles earlier this year. "Those are her exact words."

During his incarceration, Banks contacted the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law. But without any new evidence, the group passed on his case.

That changed after his alleged victim contacted him through Facebook last year. She agreed to meet him at a private investigator's office, and she was caught on film recanting her story about the rape.

Armed with that new evidence, the California Innocence Project took on the case. Banks, who would have been a registered sex offender for the rest of his life, was exonerated May 24.

It was at that point that Banks began dedicating himself to playing professional football. It appears the Seahawks and other teams are waiting to see whether he gets into better shape before giving him a roster spot.

To that end, Banks has agreed to work with well-known West Coast trainer Travelle Gaines, who will work with Banks for the first time at the end of the week. Banks will train alongside 49ers Dashon Goldson and LaMichael James in preparation for an NFL training camp.

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