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xx Wilbanks Back in Atlanta
« Reply #15 on: Apr 30th, 2005, 11:03pm »

Reported By: Duffie Dixon
Web Editor: Steve Dixon
Last Modified: 4/30/2005 11:33:22 PM

A Duluth woman who made national headlines with her disappearance is back home tonight.

Thirty-two-year-old Jennifer Wilbanks landed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport about 9 p.m. Saturday.

She had been missing since Tuesday, days before her planned wedding on Saturday.

Police whisked her from the plane with a towel over her head and took off in an APD squad car, along with an ambulance, to avoid the media that had gathered inside the terminal.

She was wearing the same clothes that she was wearing when she disappeared Tuesday night but her hair was significantly shorter.

An NBC producer was on the plane and was sitting directly behind Jennifer Wilbanks. With the help of a stewardess, Jennifer passed along this message saying she was exhausted, she had not slept for several days, she is anxious to see her fiancé.

She understands that she has to face the media and also the community who searched for her. She said she wants to do that but first she needs to clear her mind. Her earliest possible point that she expects to speak to anyone is Monday.

She said she wants to talk to other family members and she also explained she knew how important the day was to her family and friends.

Passengers on the same flight had their opinion.

“Oh, I think it’s a private matter. She obviously has a lot of fear about this next step in her life. I think she probably needs to deal with that,” said passenger Cheryl Duke.

“To me, I don’t know why she’s hiding. Don’t know that much about it. You make a mistake it would seem to be easier to walk out and talk about everything. Here’s what I did, I’m sorry I did it, I made a mistake, I am going to move on. Everyone’s following her around now. She’s eventually going to have to tell her story,” said passenger Mike Graziano.

Albuquerque police and Duluth police are not going to file any charges. However the Gwinnett County District Attorney does want to take a look at the case.

Jennifer Wilbanks went missing on Tuesday while jogging. She later was found in Albuquerque claiming to have been abducted. After questioning by Albuquerque authorities, she confessed she made the abduction story up
http://www.11alive.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=62468
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xx Why Wilbanks chose Albuquerque remains a puzzle
« Reply #16 on: May 2nd, 2005, 05:30am »

By MARK DAVIS
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/02/05


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jennifer Wilbanks, the Duluth bride-to-be who got perhaps the most famous case of cold feet in recent memory, is gone — gone as suddenly as she came, gone back to Georgia, where she has some explaining to do.

Yet, questions about the jittery fiancée linger here, where a four-day, nationwide search for the 32-year-old nurse ended outside a 7-Eleven convenience store before daylight Saturday.
How did she spend her time on a cross-country bus trip that took her from Duluth to Las Vegas to here? What of the couple she told police she befriended on that eight- to 10-hour ride from Las Vegas to here?

And, perhaps most perplexing: Why here?

"That's the million-dollar question, I think," said Trish Ahrensfield, the spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Police Department. "We really don't know why she came here."

Nor do others in Albuquerque, a dusty place where the Rio Grande curls through like a length of green ribbon dropped on a khaki sheet.

"When I heard about it, I said, 'What?' Nobody comes to Albuquerque," said Becky Haak, who moved to New Mexico from California 12 years ago. "At least she's safe and sound. That's the main thing."

The search for Wilbanks, which began in Duluth after she failed to return from a jog late Tuesday, ended at a pay phone in east Albuquerque, a tatty end of town needing a paint job.

Police described finding an upset young woman who said she had been kidnapped in Georgia by a couple driving a blue van. The two, a Hispanic man and white woman, had driven her across the country, she told police, ditching her when the publicity surrounding her disappearance scared them off.

Her long hair had been cut to shoulder length. Detectives who interviewed her soon decided that Wilbanks' hair wasn't the only thing that had been altered.

"They quickly determined there was no van," Ahrensfield said. When police pressed her, Wilbanks admitted that she had left Georgia to escape her upcoming wedding.

Wilbanks returned to Atlanta on Saturday, arriving about the time she was supposed to have said her vows before 600 friends and relatives. Police greeted her on the tarmac, helping her dodge reporters waiting inside the terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Police and federal officials here consider their end of the case closed. They are not planning any charges, nor are they looking for the couple Wilbanks said she befriended on the Greyhound bus that dropped her off in downtown Albuquerque late Friday.

"She's an adult. She got on a bus and headed west," said Special Agent Bill Elwell, media representative for the FBI's Albuquerque region. "Technically, we don't have a federal violation."

The uproar over Wilbanks' disappearance left Brooks Alldredge and Terri Oneby bemused. Sunday morning, as the couple concluded a jog along the Rio Grande, they stood under a cottonwood tree and shook their heads.

"My first thought [when Wilbanks surfaced in Albuquerque] was, 'Great. Now she'll be in the papers for weeks,' " Oneby said.

"If this wasn't some pretty, white Southern belle, we wouldn't have heard of it at all," Alldredge said.

"I think she made a big mistake," said Joe Lopez, the father of two grown daughters, out for a stroll Sunday morning. "She shamed her family by doing what she did."

In the process, she may have given Albuquerque a new claim to fame, said Ahrensfield, who handled media calls from across the nation when Wilbanks' run came to an end. "Boy, everyone knows where Albuquerque is now," she said. "Come to Albuquerque if you don't want to get married."
http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/gwinnett/0505/02albuquerque.html
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xx Groom Gives Ring Back to Runaway Bride
« Reply #17 on: May 3rd, 2005, 05:12am »

DULUTH, Ga. — When runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks (search) made her way home after running away last week, John Mason was waiting to give something to his fiancée.

"The first thing I gave to her when I saw her was her diamond back. ... She put it right on her finger," Mason told FOX News' Sean Hannity in an exclusive interview to be broadcast Monday at 9 p.m. EDT.

Mason, a 32-year-old office manager whom authorities questioned as a possible suspect in Wilbanks' disappearance, said her case of cold feet did nothing to change how he feels about her.

"'Cause we haven't walked down the aisle, just because we haven't stood in front of 500 people and said our I dos, you know, my commitment before God to her was the day I bought that ring and put it on her finger and I'm not backing down from that now," Mason told Hannity.

Mason and Wilbanks, 32, were reunited Saturday night when she returned to Georgia (search) from New Mexico. Wilbanks vanished Tuesday after saying she was going out jogging, and after initially telling authorities she had been abducted, she admitted she took a cross-country bus trip to Las Vegas, Nev., and then went on to Albuquerque, N.M.

Duluth Police Chief Randy Belcher said at a Monday press conference that Wilbanks told him a Hispanic male and a white female had jumped her from behind.

"At this point, she did violate Georgia law by advising me that she had been kidnapped," Belcher said.

He said Wilbanks bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Austin, Texas, a week before running away April 26. That day, she had a taxi pick her up at the local library and take her to the bus terminal in Atlanta.

She never made it to Austin, instead getting off in Dallas and buying a ticket to Las Vegas. She spent some time in Vegas, hanging out at the bus station most the time, before going to Albuquerque, N.M., authorities said.

Mason and his fiancée's father, Harris Wilbanks, who also appeared on "Hannity & Colmes," said Wilbanks is working on releasing a written statement.

"She just needs some space and some time," Mason said. "She just wants the whole world to know she's very, very sorry."

But if Mason and the family are ready to forgive the jittery bride, authorities are still peeved.

In Georgia, the Gwinnett County district attorney noted that vast law-enforcement resources were used to look for the missing bride for more than three days.

As for whether she needs help instead of court action, Porter told NBC, "You weigh that in the sentencing. I may agree she doesn't deserve prison time, but you can't force someone to get help unless you get them under the control of the court, or force them to pay for the police resources unless you get them under the control of the court. There is a big difference about what will happen in the end and the decision to charge."

Porter said he had no jurisdiction over the woman's initial 911 call in Albuquerque, in which she said she was kidnapped by a man and a woman in their 40s who were driving a blue van. Through sobs, she told the dispatcher they had a handgun.

Authorities said they are looking into the possibility of suing Wilbanks for the estimated $40,000 to $60,000 cost of searching for her. That option would have to be approved by the city council. The groom's father, Claude Mason, is a former mayor of Duluth and a local judge.

"We feel a tad betrayed and some are very hurt about it," Mayor Shirley Lasseter said.

She added that they want to hear from Wilbanks' family, to see if perhaps there was a good reason for the woman's disappearance. "I would love to hear from the family and know there might have been a problem and know we should work with this lady on some recourse other than legally."

The local prosecutor said Monday he will conduct a thorough investigation, which could take weeks, before deciding whether to charge Wilbanks for falsely claiming she had been kidnapped.

District Attorney Danny Porter, who also spoke at the Monday evening press conference, said Wilbanks could face a misdemeanor charge of false report of a crime or a felony charge of false statements. The misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to a year in jail; five years in prison is the maximum sentence for the felony. Click here to read more about the possible legal case.

Carter Brank, an agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said he had spoken with Wilbanks, but that she "didn't come right out an apologize."

"She was somewhat remorseful for what she had done," he said. "She cried a little bit, showed some emotion."

Wilbanks' father said his daughter claims she did not know about all the media attention surrounding her disappearance. He said she did not see a television during her trip and only once read a newspaper, but it made no mention of her.

Mason appealed to the prosecutor not to bring charges.

"Her cutting her hair and getting on a bus and riding out of here ain't none of [prosecutor] Danny Porter's business," Mason said. "And that's not criminal as far as I'm concerned."
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,155280,00.html
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xx Song, offers among odd Wilbanks reactions
« Reply #18 on: May 4th, 2005, 05:38am »

The saga of runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks continues to generate reaction — some of it creative and some just plain wacky. Some examples:

• The eBay bidding for Perry Lonzello's hand-carved piece of toast that allegedly resembles Wilbanks had increased Tuesday to $66. There also were two examples of copycat Wilbanks toast on the Internet marketplace.

Alternative country artist Jessica Urick has recorded a tongue-in-cheek song called "Leavin' on a Greyhound," sung to the tune of "Leavin' on a Jet Plane," written by John Denver.

Urick's version, reportedly played on at least one Atlanta radio station, can be heard at www.logicalaudio

.com/MP3/Leavingon

GreyhoundMasMix3.mp3.

• Wilbanks and her jilted fiancé, John Mason, have been offered a complimentary wedding ceremony by the Virgin Islands resort where they had planned to honeymoon.

The offer from the Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort in St. Lucia is said to be good for Mason "with or without Wilbanks."

• A lot of brides get cold feet, says relationship expert and author Barbara Bartlein. She estimates in a news release that one couple in five — about 500,000 a year — call off planned weddings.

Bartlein said a lot of couples spend more time planning the ceremony than they do discussing their relationship.

Says Bartlein: "I also recommend a smaller wedding than 600 people and 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen."

http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/gwinnett/0505/04brideside.html
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xx Wilbanks' Lawyer Makes Statement
« Reply #19 on: May 4th, 2005, 12:56pm »

Web Editor: Sean Rowe
Last Modified: 5/4/2005 1:35:28 PM


The attorney for a 32-year-old bride-to-be who faked her disappearance to escape a 600-guest wedding released a statement on her new client's behalf.

It is not known if Jennifer Wilbanks herself will speak out on the actions that prompted a multi-day search involving law enforcement officers from more than 20 Metro Atlanta agencies.

Jennifer Wilbanks recently retained the legal services of high-profile attorney Lydia Sartain, who spoke out on her client’s behalf Wednesday. Sartain said her client is “deeply regretful about the pain she caused her family, her fiancé, her friends and the community who rallied to her aid."

Wilbanks vanished last week from the apartment she shares with her fiancé, John Mason, in Duluth. Leaving about 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wilbanks, a marathon runner, told Mason she was going out for a 40-minute jog.

There was no word from her until the following Friday, when she called home from Albuquerque, New Mexico, claiming to have been kidnapped by a Hispanic man and Caucasian woman.

Wilbanks recanted the story soon after, saying she merely couldn’t go through with the lavish wedding, which included 16 bridesmaids and 16 groomsmen. Wilbanks returned to Atlanta last Sunday and has remained in seclusion.

Sartain’s words on Wilbanks’ behalf are the closet the runaway bride-to-be has come to making a public statement in response to the incident that sparked media frenzy, trigged a 250-person manhunt and held a nation captive waiting for word of Wilbanks’ fate.

Perhaps Wilbanks’ mother suffered most of all, regularly breaking into tears at a new conference on Friday. Sartain said despite the resources incurred in the search and anguish Wilbanks caused many, she does not believe her client committed any crime.

“Jennifer asked that I convey her appreciation of the many prayers and statements of support she has received from countless individuals,” Sartain said.

“I believe Jennifer committed no crime. I understand and respect (Gwinnett County) District Attorney Danny Porter and his obligation to investigate this situation thoroughly. Jennifer hopes this experience will help her grow and heal and perhaps help others in similar circumstances. I look forward to working with her and her family.”

District Attorney Porter said Wilbanks could face a misdemeanor charge of false report of a crime or a felony charge of false statements. The misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to a year in jail; five years in prison is the maximum sentence for the felony.

Carter Brank, an agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said he had spoken with Wilbanks, but that she "didn't come right out and apologize."

"She was somewhat remorseful for what she had done," he said. "She cried a little bit, showed some emotion."

Wilbanks' father said his daughter claims she did not know about all the media attention surrounding her disappearance. He said she did not see a television during her trip and only once read a newspaper, but it made no mention of her.

Meanwhile, Mason, the jilted groom, says he still wants to marry her. "Haven't we all made mistakes?," he said earlier this week.

“She asked me if I still wanted to marry her, and I said, ‘absolutely,’” Mason said on Monday while appearing on a cable news network. “I did tell her that and I said there’s just a few things that we need to do and I need from you in order to stay with ya and she’s willing to go through and do all those things. Time will tell.”

"Just because we haven't walked down the aisle, just because we haven't stood in front of 500 people and said our 'I Do's, my commitment before God to her was the day I bought that ring and put it on her finger, and I'm not backing down from that," he said.
http://www.11alive.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=62608
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xx It's time to close the circus, leave local family
« Reply #20 on: May 5th, 2005, 05:29am »

Enough, already. It's time to let Jennifer Wilbanks, her fiancÈ and their families get on with their lives.

Last week's ordeal in which the Gainesville native and Duluth resident disappeared for four days before her wedding was a trying time for her loved ones and the communities who know her well. These same people were greatly relieved to find that she was safe after fleeing over the stress of her impending nuptials.

Yes, it was a bizarre story and worthy of attention. Wilbanks still may face charges; many want an apology for the inconvenience she caused, and for accusing an imagined Hispanic captor. All are valid issues that will play out in time. For now, Wilbanks and her family need a little space to work out the difficulties caused by her disappearing act. Further probing into their personal lives is not news, and is nobody's business.

When Wilbanks turned up missing, it was news in Hall and Gwinnett because so many here know the families involved. When a person is missing, the local media has a responsibility to report it, both to inform those who might know them and to get the word out to help find them.

What we can't understand is the national media's obsession with this case. The talking heads on cable television seem to latch onto a story like this and not let it go, even when it has been all but resolved.

Days after Wilbanks' return home, the cable TV programs are still at it, speculating over every angle of the case, from Larry King and Sean Hannity to the prosecutorial duo of Nancy Grace and Greta van Susteren. Geez, you'd think a bride has never before taken off before her wedding. Yeah, it's an interesting story, but is this kind of overkill necessary?

But it's not the first time TV news shows have tackled juicy stories with saturation coverage, whether it's the latest celebrity trial (Michael Jackson, Martha Stewart, Kobe Bryant, et al) or lurid missing persons case.

Are they news? To an extent, when big-name celebs or local residents are involved. But 24-hour coverage, with rampant and often irresponsible guesswork to fill time when nothing new is learned, is way over the top.

We're part of the media, too, and we often are asked why we cover some stories the way we do. It's always a fair question. Yet we are just as perplexed as others at what we see from the TV infotainment crowd.

What is the fascination with Laci Peterson, JonBenet Ramsey and now Jennifer Wilbanks? Are suspected crimes against young women the only news worth covering? Isn't news that might affect our lives, like taxes or national security, a better use of time and effort? Yet when cable outlets choose to focus on the latest bikini-clad teacher having an affair with a 14-year-old student, such vital issues get lost in the shuffle.

Then again, this may be a product of our media marketplace. When young people tell us they'd rather get their news from the cable spoof "The Daily Show" than a legitimate source, it could be that reporting real news is a losing battle if the only goal is to win ratings.

Anyway, Jennifer Wilbanks isn't a celebrity, at least not by profession or choice, and neither are the people close to her. They've got a lot to deal with now and the constant media glare doesn't help.

When there's something new to report about this story, we'll report it. Until then, we wish the talking heads would pack up their satellite trucks, move on to the next glamour tale du jour of love and lust and leave folks here alone.

http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/stories/20050505/opinion/100901.shtml
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xx Lawyer: Wilbanks 'Very Remorseful'
« Reply #21 on: May 6th, 2005, 05:33am »

The long-awaited statement from runaway bride-to-be Jennifer Wilbanks may or may not be made in person, her lawyer said Thursday morning.

Speaking to Katie Couric on NBC’s “Today Show,” attorney Lydia Sartain said the scheduled 4 p.m. public statement from Wilbanks would “depend on her ability, her mental state, her emotional state…whether she’s really physically able to be present.” Sartain said “no determination has been made at this time.”

Strain described her client as “very anxious,” “very nervous,” and “very remorseful,” for triggering a three-day manhunt involving upwards of 250 people last week that sent her grief-stricken family and friends on an emotional rollercoaster.

“She is a very fragile person consumed with all of these issues,” Sartain said.

Wilbanks has remained in seclusion since returning to Duluth, Ga., last Sunday, following her voluntary disappearance from the apartment she shared with her fiancé, John Mason. Telling Mason she was going out for a jog, Wilbanks instead boarded a Greyhound bus using a ticket she purchased days before her escape and headed west.

A community of concern turned to one of anger and resentment when Wilbanks made known that she left to escape an overwhelming, lavish wedding. She also specifically said a Hispanic man had kidnapped her only to later recant her statement.

Sartain said, “She was under a lot of pressure. It was not the wedding itself. It was just a combination of a lot of things. This was just…she was running away more from herself than anything else.”

Sartain said Wilbanks’ return at best has been “traumatic.” Still, the public outcry has apparently also been tempered by support and faith.

Sartain said, “(Wilbanks) has a lot of good wishes. She and John, her fiancé, are very much people of faith. They have relied on that.”

Wilbanks is also trying to get some help, whether that be medical, psychological or spiritual. Sartain said her client isn’t ruling out any aid that could help her get her life back on track.

“She was just seeking evaluation to identify what her issues are, to find out what she can do to get herself more healthy,” the attorney said. “She really wants to find out what’s going on with her, so she’s exploring everything.”

In a variation on the classic song “Stand By Your Man,” Mason is standing by his woman, saying he still intends to marry Wilbanks.

“They are spending a lot of time together,” Sartain said. “John is very supportive of Jennifer, very protective of her, very concerned about her well-being. They are working together to deal with these issues so they can move forward as best they can.”

Whether charges will be brought against Wilbanks remains to be seen. Sartain said she had no idea when Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter would make an announcement on the matter.

“I do not believe that she has committed any crime. I don’t believe she has acted with any criminal intent. She is simply a troubled young woman,” Sartain said.
http://www.11alive.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=62658
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xx A 'Toast' to the Runaway Bride
« Reply #22 on: May 6th, 2005, 11:24am »

NEWTON, N.J. (AP) - A New Jersey man may make some bread off the runaway bride case.

Perry Lonzello has put a piece of toast with a crude rendition of Jennifer Wilbanks carved into it on eBay. So far, the Internet auction has drawn more than 100 bids and reached $600.

Nearly 100,000 people have checked out the merchandise.

Lonzello is also posting a running commentary on the auction and his newfound fame with newspapers and TV and radio stations.

He assures bidders that many imitations are popping up on eBay and across the country, but his is "the one and only Runaway bride toast."

Wilbanks vanished days before her Atlanta-area wedding, prompting widespread searches and a police investigation last week.

She surfaced in New Mexico, claiming she'd been abducted but admitting she made up the story.
http://www.wltx.com/fyi/fyi.aspx?storyid=27110
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xx Re: Jennifer Wilbanks - The Runaway Bride
« Reply #23 on: May 7th, 2005, 11:03pm »

By MARK DAVIS
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/08/05



In retrospect, after her lie has been laid out for the world to see, you look at her photograph on the "Missing" posters and focus on the eyes.

Those are the eyes that watched Atlanta vanish in the dark as Jennifer Wilbanks fled in a Greyhound bus, the eyes that watched rivers and mountains slip past during a four-day run that ended in a dusty parking lot 1,400 miles away, the eyes that filled with tears as the runaway bride begged for her mama and daddy.

They're the eyes that captivated a nation.

Now, Wilbanks the runner has turned into Wilbanks the recluse. She's gone into seclusion at her home in Gainesville, where a loving family and her fiancé, John Mason, have closed ranks.

"At this time, I cannot explain fully what happened to me last week," Wilbanks said in a statement read Thursday by the Rev. Tom Smiley of Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, where the Wilbanks family has worshipped for four generations.

"I had a host of compelling issues which seemed out of control — issues for which I was unable to address or confine," Smiley read from Wilbanks' statement. "Please, may I assure you that my running away had nothing to do with 'cold feet,' nor was it ever about leaving John."

So the question remains: If not pre-wedding jitters, then what?

The sketchy picture of Jennifer Wilbanks that emerges shows someone with issues: with the law, with the truth and, perhaps, with herself.

Wilbanks, 32, has hired Gainesville lawyer Lydia Sartain to represent her, and for good reason. Her story, that she was abducted while jogging, collapsed like a poorly made wedding cake.

Wilbanks bought a Greyhound bus ticket a week before her wedding, then called a taxicab to pick her up during her jog, police have learned. She snipped several inches off her long hair and, with $140 in cash, boarded a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Dallas. From there she went to Las Vegas and then to Albuquerque, N.M.

There, at a 7-Eleven in a battered section of east Albuquerque, she dialed 911 and told police that a Hispanic man and a white woman in a blue van had grabbed her while she jogged in Duluth. They had sexually assaulted her before abandoning her, Wilbanks claimed.

But police detectives soon got to the truth, as did the rest of the nation: The bride had run.

On April 30, Wilbanks, her head hidden under a garishly striped blanket, ran again — this time past a throng of reporters. She boarded a nonstop first-class Delta flight that returned her to Atlanta. It was to have been her wedding day.

The Sunday Journal, Albuquerque's Sunday newspaper, summed up the story succinctly in a four-word headline: "There Goes the Bride."

Her travels may be over, but Wilbanks' troubles may have just begun. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said he was examining evidence for a possible charge of making false statements to a government agency.

Sartain believes that's not necessary.

"She is deeply regretful of the pain she caused her family, her fiancé, her friends and the community who rallied to her aid," the lawyer said Wednesday. "I believe Jennifer committed no crime."

Arrests for shoplifting

Sartain, a former Hall County district attorney, knows her client. Court records show that Wilbanks was arrested three times in that county on shoplifting charges from 1996 to 1998.

In 1996, as district attorney, Sartain prosecuted Wilbanks for allegedly shoplifting $1,740 in merchandise from a Gainesville mall, court records show. Sartain dropped the felony charge after Wilbanks, then 24, completed a pretrial diversion program, the records show. Wilbanks performed 75 hours of community service and paid restitution, according to court records.

Months before that felony arrest, police had charged Wilbanks with misdemeanor shoplifting for allegedly taking $37.05 in merchandise from a Gainesville Wal-Mart. Court records show that officials dismissed the case after Wilbanks completed "Project Turnabout," a six-week counseling program for shoplifters.

Read the Complete Article HERE:
http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/gwinnett/0505/08bride.html
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xx Sartain: I did not prosecute Jennifer Wilbanks
« Reply #24 on: May 10th, 2005, 04:34am »

By Scott Kimbler



GAINESVILLE - Attorney Lydia Sartain said Monday she wants to set the record straight by saying she did not personally prosecute her now client, runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks in 1996.

The Atlanta Journal reported Sunday that Sartain was the prosecutor of the shoplifting arrest but Sartain said the pre-trail diversion program handled the charges.

"Those folks handled her case." Sartain said. "She qualified for the program and evidently completed the program. Subsequent offenses were prosecuted by the state court and municipal courts, so I was not involved in those."

She added even if she had prosecuted Wilbanks, it would not be a conflict to defend her in a separate case. Especially, one that originates in a different jurisdiction.

Official Hall County arrest records show Wilbanks was arrested five times from 1996 to 1998.

Sartain went on to say regarding the possibility that Wilbanks could face charges for her disappearance that sparked a nationwide manhunt, she has met with Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter and hopes prosecution can be avoided.

"It continues to be my position that if Jennifer Wilbanks violated any law, it would have been in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Those authorities have made a determination not to prosecute." She said.

Also related, Sartain is involved with negotiating with the City of Duluth possible restitution for the manpower used while searching for Wilbanks.

http://www.accessnorthga.com/news/hall/newfullstory.asp?ID=92181
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xx Runaway bride broke engagement before
« Reply #25 on: May 11th, 2005, 06:07am »

By MATT STEWART



The attorney for runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks confirmed Tuesday that there was some truth to reports that her client had run from marriage before, though "nothing similar to this."

"She hasn't done this before," said Lydia Sartain referring to her client's cross-country bus ride four days prior to her April 30 wedding with Duluth's John Mason. "But I think she had been engaged once before, years ago. It was very brief."

Sartain didn't know the specifics behind Wilbanks' previous engagement or how it ended. "They just didn't get married," she said.

Sartain said she didn't know when Wilbanks, who has entered a medical treatment program, would be able to speak publicly about the ordeal.

Lakewood Baptist Church spokesman Sammy Smith said Wilbanks had entered a "highly regarded, inpatient treatment program" late Monday. Wilbanks' family attends Lakewood.

Smith said Wilbanks felt the need to address physical and mental issues that played a role in her behavior.

"The location of the program will not be disclosed, nor will the suggested duration or program of treatment," Smith said in a statement, adding that her condition will be updated later as approved by medical personnel and Sartain.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said that Wilbanks' decision to seek medical treatment will not protect her from charges, but he did hint that courts might be lenient on Wilbanks.

"In general, any efforts made by a defendant to show they are on the path to rehabilitation are generally looked on favorably by the courts," Porter said.

Sartain, a former district attorney for the Georgia Northeastern Judicial Circuit that includes Dawson and Hall counties, crossed paths with Wilbanks nearly a decade ago, when her current client was charged with shoplifting $1,740 in merchandise from a Gainesville mall.

Sartain said the charge in 1996 was dropped after Wilbanks, then 24, went through a pretrial diversion program, run by the district attorney's office, which included 75 hours of community service and restitution.

"I did not know (Wilbanks) personally or realize she had gone through (the program)," Sartain said. "She fit the criteria for her first offense, and the victim consented to the program. But I am not aware of any personal contact."

Also in 1996, Wilbanks was charged with misdemeanor shoplifting after she reportedly took $37 in merchandise from Wal-Mart in Gainesville.

That case also was dropped after Wilbanks completed "Project Turnabout," a six-week counseling program for shoplifters, according to court records.

Wilbanks also served two weekends in jail after pleading guilty to shoplifting $98 of merchandise in 1998, according to court records.

Sartain said both those offenses were handled by state and city courts and that she generally didn't take criminal cases that involved Hall, "just as a personal preference."

Sartain met Monday with Porter to discuss possible charges against Wilbanks for filing false reports.

She said Porter still is putting together those reports, and Duluth City Attorney Lee Thompson is working to determine what the search efforts cost.

Duluth Mayor Shirley Lasseter estimated the figure between $40,000 to $60,000 and has said the city may sue to recoup expenses.

http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/stories/20050511/localnews/102523.shtml
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xx Georgia DA to Discuss Runaway Bride Case
« Reply #26 on: May 25th, 2005, 07:10am »

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. May 25, 2005 — Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter says he will discuss the case of runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks with news reporters Wednesday, the same day the county grand jury is scheduled to convene.

But Porter would not say if he will file charges against Wilbanks.

"You can draw your own conclusions, but I'm not commenting publicly on the coincidence of a press conference on the same day the grand jury meets," Porter said Monday.

Porter has said Wilbanks could face a misdemeanor charge of filing a false report or a felony charge of making false statements for telling authorities she had been kidnapped.

Wilbanks, 32, prompted a massive search when she disappeared from her Duluth home April 26, just days before her scheduled 600-guest wedding. While Georgia authorities spent days looking for her, the woman traveled to Las Vegas by bus and then to Albuquerque, N.M. There, she called authorities with a story about having been abducted and sexually assaulted.

But under questioning, she later recanted and said she fled Georgia because of unspecified personal issues.

Wilbanks' attorney, Lydia Sartain of Gainesville, said she does not think Wilbanks committed a crime in Gwinnett County. Authorities in Albuquerque have already said they will not charge Wilbanks.

"The citizens of the county will be ill-served by an attempted prosecution," Sartain said.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=788816
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xx Gwinnett indicts runaway bride
« Reply #27 on: May 26th, 2005, 05:44am »

By MATT STEWART

On a day when Jennifer Wilbanks was indicted on charges of making a false statement and making a false police report, her attorney skipped out on a scheduled press conference following the indictment.

Early Wednesday, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter announced that a grand jury indicted Wilbanks on one count of making a false statement to police, a felony, and making a false police report, a misdemeanor.

The Gainesville native ran away from her Duluth home April 26, days before her scheduled wedding. That sparked a three-day search estimated to cost more than $50,000. She turned up in Albuquerque, N.M.

If convicted, she could face up to six years in prison and be ordered to reimburse the cost of the search.

"We believe this is a reasonable next step in the case," Porter said. "We believe the grand jury made the right decision."

The indictment does not rule out a possible plea agreement to lesser charges, Porter said.

Wednesday afternoon, Wilbanks' lawyer Lydia Sartain scheduled a press conference at Hunt Tower in Gainesville to offer a rebuttal statement to the media. After nearly an hour delay, Sammy Smith, a spokesman for Wilbanks and Sartain, announced the attorney would not attend the press conference.

Smith did not say why Sartain did not show up and a phone message left with Sartain was not returned. Sartain left a brief notice with Smith saying there would be no statement on Wilbanks' charges.

"As you know, Jennifer is in intensive treatment and we had hoped that we would be able to make a statement today; however, we are unable to make a statement at this time and we apologize for the inconvenience."

Wilbanks' felony charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, with the misdemeanor carrying a maximum of one year, Porter said.

A bench warrant will be issued for Wilbanks' arrest within the next few days, Porter added. He said he was confident arrangements could be made to have Wilbanks turn herself in.

"At some point there has to be a consequence for lying to the police," he said. "We don't want, as a society, to allow people to lie to the police."

The city of Duluth also is seeking restitution from Wilbanks. Despite the indictment, Mayor Shirley Lassetter said Wednesday that the city has not ruled out a lawsuit against Wilbanks to recoup about $40,000 that the city spent on the search. The city is continuing its negotiations with Sartain.

Several state and county agencies, including those in Hall County, already said they will not ask Wilbanks to reimburse them for a total of $10,000 spent in additional search costs.

Sartain has said she does not think Wilbanks committed a crime in Gwinnett County. Authorities in Albuquerque, N.M., where she was found, already have said they will not charge Wilbanks.

Wilbanks disappeared after claiming that she was going for a jog.

While Georgia authorities looked for her, she traveled to Las Vegas by bus and then to Albuquerque, N.M. There, she called authorities with a story about having been abducted and sexually assaulted.

But under questioning, she recanted and said she fled Georgia because of unspecified personal issues. She returned to Georgia on April 30, the day she was to have been married in a lavish ceremony with 600 guests.

http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/stories/20050526/localnews/106856.shtml
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xx Runaway bride repays Duluth
« Reply #28 on: Jun 2nd, 2005, 05:49am »

By TASGOLA KARLA BRUNER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks has paid Duluth nearly one-third of what the city spent searching for her in April.

"The check is in hand. It was delivered to my city clerk this morning," Duluth Mayor Shirley Lasseter said Tuesday of the $13,249.09
The city can't sue Wilbanks for more, according to an agreement signed by her attorney and the Duluth city attorney.

Wilbanks disappeared during an evening jog April 26. She surfaced in Albuquerque, N.M., four days later — the day she was to have wed John Mason, son of Duluth's former mayor. She initially told police she had been abducted, but within hours, she admitted to the FBI that the story was fabricated.

The payment covers about 400 overtime hours worked by police and other personnel, as well as out-of-pocket expenses incurred during her search.

That leaves the city responsible for about $30,000. That includes another 1,200 hours of time worked by police and other personnel during the search, as well as gas and food, Lasseter said.

Lasseter expressed relief at the agreement.

"It's better than the alternative of going to court and dragging this out longer that it is now and putting both families and the city through more than what we've been through," she said.

But Rod Witmer, an insurance agent from Lawrenceville, called the payment "a joke."

Based on reports that Wilbanks' friends and family offered a $100,000 reward for information in the case and that a lavish wedding was planned for 600 guests, "a 100 percent restitution is only right," he said.

"Give us the monetary compensation, give us an 'I'm sorry,' and we'll all heal," Witmer said.

Wilbanks' attorney, Lydia Sartain of Gainesville, did not return calls seeking comment.

In the agreement signed by Sartain, Wilbanks expressed remorse:

"Ms. Wilbanks denies any legal liability for said costs but deeply regrets her actions and the trouble and expense incurred by the city in coordinating and conducting the search."

Last week, a Gwinnett County grand jury indicted Wilbanks on a felony count of making false statements and one misdemeanor count of falsely reporting a crime.

The felony charge carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The misdemeanor could bring up to a 12-month sentence and a $1,000 fine.

Wilbanks indicated in a statement released May 10 that she had entered a "highly regarded inpatient treatment program."

Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said Tuesday that he'd heard from Sartain and "we're going to work out an appropriate time for her to turn herself in."

A specific date has not been set, he added.

Porter said Wilbanks is still receiving inpatient treatment.

"She's in a place where she can't leave," Porter said. "There's no necessity to waste county money putting her in our jail. I'm satisfied that she doesn't present any danger where she is."
http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/gwinnett/0605/01bride.html
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xx Wilbanks Turns Herself In
« Reply #29 on: Jun 2nd, 2005, 2:02pm »

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (AP) — With her once-jilted fiance at her side, runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks pleaded no contest Thursday to a felony charge and wept as she was sentenced to probation, community service and a fine.

"I'm truly sorry for my actions and I just want to thank Gwinnett County and the city of Duluth," a crying Wilbanks told the judge as she pleaded to a charge of making a false statement.

She was sentenced to two years of probation and 120 hours of community service. The judge also ordered her to continue mental health treatment and pay the sheriff's office $2,550.

If she successfully completes her probation, the felony will be erased from her record, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said
Wilbanks, whose disappearance before her wedding in April created a nationwide sensation, was wearing a black outfit and running shoes as she arrived at the Gwinnett County courthouse Thursday to make her plea. Her fiance John Mason, whom she was to have married April 30 in a lavish ceremony, was by her side.

Wilbanks was indicted last week on charges of making a false statement and making a false police report. She could have faced up to six years in prison and $11,000 in fines if convicted of both charges. The misdemeanor false report charge was dropped as part of her plea deal.

Wilbanks also could also have been ordered to reimburse authorities for the cost of the search, which has been tallied at more than $50,000. She's already agreed to pay part of the tab: On Tuesday, she said she would pay $13,250 to the city of Duluth, Ga., to help offset the overtime costs the city incurred searching for her.

"She's done everything that we would ask of her," Wilbanks' attorney, Lydia Sartain, said Thursday morning before sentencing. "She has accepted responsibility."

Wilbanks, a nurse, disappeared from her Duluth home on April 26, four days before she was to have been married at a high-profile ceremony with 600 guests and 28 attendants. She took a bus to Las Vegas and then Albuquerque, N.M.

She initially claimed she was abducted and sexually assaulted, but later recanted and said she fled because of unspecified personal issues days before the wedding. The false statement charge under which she was sentenced stemmed from a phone call she made relaying the abduction and assault allegations from New Mexico to Georgia.

Family members say she has been receiving psychiatric treatment at an unspecified facility.
http://www.courttv.com/people/2005/0602/bride_ap.html
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