May 11, 2005 in Nation/World

Runaway bride enters treatment program

Charles Odum Associated Press
Associated Press photo

These undated Hall County, Ga., Detention Center booking photos released by WDUN NEWS 550 radio on Tuesday show Jennifer Wilbanks after being arrested in three separate shoplifting incidents.
(Full-size photo)

ATLANTA – Runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks has checked herself into an inpatient medical treatment program to deal with “physical and mental issues” that drove her to skip town just days before her wedding, a spokesman for her family’s church said Tuesday.

The news about the treatment came as more details about Wilbanks’ previous brushes with the law emerged. She was charged with shoplifting on three occasions in the 1990s, including one case in which she allegedly swiped $1,740 in merchandise from a mall, according to court records. That felony charge was dropped after the then 24-year-old Wilbanks completed community service and paid restitution, according to court records.

Wilbanks also served two weekends in jail after pleading guilty to shoplifting $98 in merchandise from a store in 1998, according to court records. And in 1996, she was charged with misdemeanor shoplifting for allegedly taking $37 in merchandise from a Wal-Mart in Gainesville, Ga. That case was dismissed after Wilbanks completed a six-week counseling program for shoplifters, according to court records.

Sammy Smith, a spokesman for Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, said Wilbanks entered the treatment program Monday. He said the location of the treatment center will not be disclosed and he would not provide more details on the type of treatment Wilbanks is receiving or how long she is expected to remain in the facility.

“Ms. Wilbanks entered a highly regarded, inpatient treatment program on her own volition to address physical and mental issues which, she believes, played a major role in her ‘running from herself’ as she described in a public statement last week,” Smith said in a statement.

Prosecutors are still considering whether to press charges against Wilbanks for making false statements to authorities.

District Attorney Danny Porter said her decision to seek treatment will not protect her from charges, although he acknowledged that the courts could be swayed by her decision to voluntarily seek medical assistance.

Wilbanks apologized Thursday for disappearing just before her April 30 wedding day, triggering a nationwide search that lasted three days and ended when she called home from a pay phone in New Mexico. In her statement, Wilbanks said her disappearance was not motivated by cold feet, but by “a host of compelling issues, which seemed out of control.”

Wilbanks’ attorney, Lydia Sartain, said no single incident forced Wilbanks to seek medical help. “It was just her overall circumstances,” said Sartain.

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