May 2, 2005 in Nation/World

Fugitive fiancee may face charges

Charles Odum Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A days-old missing-person sign showing Jennifer Wilbanks hangs on a utility pole, wrapped with police tape, outside John Mason’s home in Duluth, Ga., on Sunday, two days after Wilbanks, Mason’s fiancee, turned up in New Mexico.
(Full-size photo)

DULUTH, Ga. – On what was to be her wedding day, Jennifer Wilbanks wore not a white veil but an orange towel over her head to deter news media from taking her picture.

Instead of being led down the aisle by her father, she was led by police to an airplane that flew the runaway bride home to Georgia.

Officials say the 32-year-old woman’s cold feet have gotten her in hot water. On Sunday, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter vowed to look into whether she had violated the law by reporting a crime that didn’t exist.

Wilbanks initially told authorities she had been abducted while jogging but later disclosed she had taken a cross-country bus trip to Albuquerque, N.M., to avoid her lavish, 600-guest wedding.

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.

An FBI spokesman said Saturday that Wilbanks apparently had made a sudden decision to flee her wedding and did not realize hundreds of people were looking for her. But he also noted she had cut her hair to avoid being recognized.

Porter said he will speak today to police in Albuquerque, where Wilbanks turned up late Friday and called her fiance and 911 to report she had been kidnapped.

Despite angry calls from some residents, authorities in Albuquerque said they have no plans to charge Wilbanks, but they haven’t ruled it out.

“We don’t have to charge everybody,” said Albuquerque police spokeswoman Trish Ahrensfield. “We have discretion. We are human beings. We have feelings, and we are professional at the same time.”

After Wilbanks disappeared last week without her keys, wallet or diamond ring, more than 100 officers led a search involving several hundred volunteers, including wedding guests and members of the bridal party.

Porter said he has no jurisdiction over the woman’s initial 911 call in Albuquerque, in which she told an operator she had been 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 small handgun.

But Porter said Wilbanks could be charged for reporting her kidnapping story over the phone to police.

Last year, a Wisconsin college student who faked her abduction and turned up curled in a fetal position in a marsh was given three years’ probation for obstructing police and was ordered to repay police at least $9,000 for the costs of the search.

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