Runaway Bride Jennifer Wilbanks Indicted

Jennifer Wilbanks, the infamous runaway bride, was indicted today on several counts.

Georgia Grand Jury Indicts ‘Runaway Bride’ (Fox)

So-called runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks was indicted Wednesday on felony and misdemeanor charges, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter announced. Wilbanks was indicted on one count of making false statements, a felony, and one count of falsely reporting a crime, a misdemeanor, the district attorney said.

The penalty for the felony charge is 1 to 5 years behind bars; the misdemeanor carries a sentence of up to 12 months in confinement, according to Porter.

I hope she gets the max. While Michael Demmons is well taken on the irony here,

[T]hey want to punish her for all the money she cost them by:

a.) spending a fortune on a trial to
b.) send her to a $50,000 a year prison.

I disagree that she’s done “nothing wrong” aside from a false 911 call. A grand jury apparently agrees. Of course, the Ham Sandwich cautionary applies.

As an aside, I predict that either Drew Barrymore or Paris Hilton will play Wilbanks in the made-for-television movie.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael says:

    Perhaps you could explain what, legally, she did wrong besides the 911 call.

    You can’t just make up shit just because you don’t like what she did.

  2. James Joyner says:

    The story explains that: She filed a false police report on a felony matter–which is itself a felony.

  3. Just Me says:

    I predict this won’t got to trial, it will be pled out, and she won’t go to prison. At most it will be a few month and jail with a few years probation.

    That said, I think the charges are fair, after all lots of time and money was spent looking for her and investigating a crime that didn’t happen.

  4. Alan says:

    She never asked anyone to come looking for it. She made a telephone call to the Albuquerque police, not the Lawrenceville police, and her report called off the search, and didn’t start it. The goal of prosecutor is not to punish a crime (no law was broken in their jurisdiction) but to save face. Its playing politics with a criminal indictment.

  5. PJ/Maryland says:

    James, I have to agree with Michael, I don’t see much of a crime here. She made a false statement in a 911 call, and presumably further statements at the police station before she recanted. Do verbal statements qualify as a “filing”? Even if they do, all this took place in Arizona, not Georgia.

    Maybe I’ve got the chronology wrong? You May 1 post says, “Jennifer Wilbanks, who had half of Georgia out looking for her after she reported being abducted because she was stressed out over a wedding, may face criminal charges…” Surely “half of Georgia” was hunting her _before_ she reported being abducted? Maybe there’s some crime her family (and fiance) can be charged with, since they’re the ones who got the expensive manhunt started.

    I can understand Gwinnett County being annoyed at wasting money. If DA Porter can get any reimbursement, he should take it like a shot, rather than wasting more money on a trial.

    There are parallels to the Tawanna Brawley case years ago in NY; I’m pretty sure there were no criminal charges in that (more egregious) case.

  6. Bill says:

    It is, without a doubt that the government, once more, is looking to make a point. Ok, so she made a mistake. I think, due to the circumstances, the majority of us can find it in our hearts to forgive her. Yes, I’m sure the government finds it a waste of resources to look for her – they could have used those resources to find the real bad guys. (Does this indicate that they too thought this was more of an infraction as opposed to a crime?)But I think we can chalk it up to a “training exercise” for the police to hone their skills. If they couldn’t find her – how in the world can they find the real criminals and terrorists? Let’s put all of this into focus – this is hardly “felony” quality (or media quality for that matter). At most, I vote for some civil action where she must pay back the amount expended (as long as an accurate account can be made for the expenses). As the commercial says “sometimes people do stupid things”. Let’s not take her life from her forever for it.

  7. Just Me says:

    If I remember right, when she called she didn’t say “hey guys I am safe, call off the search,” she instead made up a story about a hispanic couple kidnapping her and hauling her away in a van. Also, the police interviewed her for some time, before she admitted she made up the hispanic couple and wasn’t really kidnapped. During that time, it is very likely she did put something in writing, although it is possible that the calling of 911 and the verbal report of the kidnapping could be enough to qualify as a false report depending on the law.

    The question is whether or not the court in Georgia has jurisdiction given that the report was made to New Mexico police, not Georgia police. That is something for the attornies to work out.

  8. McGehee says:

    I’m thinking Gwinnett County claims jurisdiction because they were the lead agency — at least until the fake kidnapping report led to it being potentially an FBI matter.

    My own view is that the interstate nature the case took on when the false report was made, ought to mean the false report charge belongs to the feds, not Gwinnett. But IANAL.

  9. Jim says:

    My opinion on this…

    She should be punished for the fake 911 call and the story she made up about what happened to her. That’s not something you should mess around with. However, I think it is a little much to try to charge her for all of the time/money/effort that was spent on the search.

  10. denise says:

    Are you joking about charging the fiance and family? I hope so, because I don’t see any evidnece of intent on their part.

    As for reimbursement, my understanding is that the City, which incurred most of the expense, is negotiating with her attorney for that. The DA isn’t really in a position to do that, except for seeking restitution if she is convicted criminally. (I’m not a Georgia lawyer, so that’s a guess based on other criminal law.)

    Like others have said, it is doubtful this will go to trial. I can see her pleading guilty, agreeing to pay any restitution (which will be a small cut of her inevitable book and Lifetime Movie Channel deal), and possibly perform some community service.

  11. Kent says:

    [T]hey want to punish her for all the money she cost them by:

    a.) spending a fortune on a trial to
    b.) send her to a $50,000 a year prison.

    … Is pretty silly. The point is to set up an incentive structure to not file false reports, and thereby avoid costs in the future.

    Whether this is a good idea is a separate issue. I would consider a plea bargain and probation as a reasonable outcome.

  12. Bob Sprat says:

    Also, she’s been picked up 3 times for shoplifting, one was felony theft, but she was able to get out of it with nothing at all on her record due to her lawyer using the Pre-Trial Diversion program. The avg person would have served some real jailtime. Porter did the right thing.

  13. Jeff says:

    Hannity had the DA on the radio yesterday and mentioned it today (heard it tape delayed on his show today.) Apparently (Hannity repeating what the DA told him) saying what it won’t come even close to a trial with a deal for restitution to the city and her mental treatment (she is still in a facility she checked into after the whole thing happened.)

  14. PJ/Maryland says:

    Are you joking about charging the fiance and family? I hope so, because I don’t see any evidnece of intent on their part.

    Denise, I guess I’m joking a little. But suppose Wilbanks had called and said, “I’m fine, I’ll be home in a few days.” The city still would have been out their $40k, and it wouldn’t have been Wilbanks’ fault.

    As for intent, Wilbanks had no intent of starting a massive manhunt. She probably made up the kidnapping story as an excuse for her disappearance; arguably, word of the manhunt would have led her to embellish the story, so the causation is almost backwards.

    I’m guessing some sensible New Mexico cop sat her down and got her to recant. (Sorry, I see I said “Arizona” above.) And probably whatever her mental problem is was obvious enough that NM officials didn’t see any point in charging her.

  15. Alice says:

    There has yet to be an apology from her family, for imputing the motives of the DA. Also, this woman is a repeat offender.
    A strong message needs to be sent, that there are enough real abductions requiring huge law enforcement time investment, and to explicitly or implicitly lead authorities to do a massive search is a behavior that will have serious consequences, regardless of whether the motive is fraud or pathological narcissism or stupidity.

  16. Jenny says:

    I don’t understand how the family can spend so much money on a large wedding (I believe the estimates were $100,000), but can’t pay the city back all the money it spent because of her? Does this make sense to anyone else? If I were the family, I would pay all of it just because I felt bad. If I were the city, I think I’d press more for that amount.

  17. SK says:

    OK…I’ve just gotta say something…

    Obviously this women made some huge errors and offended a lot of people and for that she needs to make amends.

    BUT…at the same time she is someone who obviously is suffering from some mental issues…it kinda makes me sick to see pictures of her on various rag newspapers.

    What kind of country is this that continues to publicly humiliate someone with a mental disability…obviously there was a great interest in the story around the time of its occurence…but now we know it was a result of a mental issue. The media and public should have left the issue alone at that point.