Video: Runaway bride faces charges

By Host, "The Abrams Report"
updated 5/3/2005 11:52:45 AM ET 2005-05-03T15:52:45
TRANSCRIPT

We now know that Jennifer Wilbanks was lying. She was not abducted in Georgia and driven cross-country by a couple driving a blue van as she had said. She hopped on a bus and took off heading the opposite direction of her upcoming wedding.  But now she could be facing criminal charges, and if convicted, could spend up to five years in prison.  

As for her jilted groom, he says: “Just because we haven't walked down the aisle, just because we haven't stood in front of 500 people and our I-dos, 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.” 

The person who will ultimately decide if Jennifer is charged in Georgia, Danny Porter, district attonery of Gwinnett County, spoke with MSNBC's Dan Abrams.

DANNY PORTER, GWINNETT COUNTY, GEORGIA, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I wanted to correct one thing.  There was only one phone call to Duluth.  Jennifer Wilbanks talked to the chief of police in a continuation of the first phone call.  There wasn't a separate phone call. 

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, 'THE ABRAMS REPORT':  So there was the phone call that she makes to her family, and as part of that call she speaks to the authorities, right? 

PORTER:  Correct.  And then she makes the 911 call.  So it really isn't going to make any difference. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  And that phone call is the big one, meaning, the call that where she speaks to your officials is the reason that she may get charged in your jurisdiction, right? 

PORTER:  That's the call that would form the basis of the criminal prosecution in Georgia if we decide to prosecute. 

ABRAMS:  So where do you stand now, are you looking towards prosecuting her? 

PORTER:  I don't want to sound coy, but it's really too early to tell about that.  We're still in the fact-gathering stage as far as gathering up the information from FBI and from GBI.  And I want to know what happened while she was out West.  And we have got some interviews to do there.  The only thing I know right now is that it's pretty clear—well, not even just pretty clear, really clear, that in Georgia, the jurisdiction or the venue for the crime of false statements or for false report of a crime is where the report is received, not necessarily where it originates.  There's no legal impediment to prosecution.  Now we get into the harder question: Is it the right thing to do under the circumstances? 

ABRAMS:  What goes into that decision?  You say there's no legal impediment so it seems technically it was a crime. 

PORTER:  Well, prosecutors have discretion, as you know, and what we have to do is exercise our judgment under all of the facts and see if this is a case that the criminal justice system really needs to get involved in.  And those factors are the intent of the person when they commit the act, the damage that is done by the commission of the crime, or the reasonable expectation that damage might be done.  Those are the kinds of things that the investigation can reveal that we will take a look at in deciding how we are going to proceed. 

ABRAMS:  It just seems to me though that I lost all my sympathy for her when it heard the 911 call, and I understand that that call specifically is not going to be the basis of any charges.  But you're talking about discretion: There she is, calling 911, telling them about some Hispanic guy and his girlfriend driving a blue van and then repeats the story again and again to the authorities.  They have to basically force it out of her that she is lying. 

PORTER:  Well, that is true.  And that's sort of one of the factors you have to think about when I talk about the damage that is done.  What you're really talking about is police theoretically could have begun pulling over Hispanic males in blue vans all over the Southwest.  I know here in Duluth that the police were following up leads on kidnapping.  We talked to a lot of people who were potential suspects.  John Mason was put through the ringer as a potential suspect.  And those are the things that you have got to look at. 

You've also got to look at is, I kind of hear the voice saying, “Well, I didn't know all of this would happen,” and you have got to decide whether or not it's reasonable that a grown person would not understand the consequences of their acts. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, and just my personal opinion, I'm not particularly sympathetic to that once I hear about the 911 call.  And I know one of the issues that you're taking into consideration is the possibility of premeditation.  Have you figured out when she bought that bus ticket? 

PORTER:  She bought the bus ticket a week before she left. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So she did not just at the last minute decide, “Oh, my gosh, I can't deal with this.” You're now telling us that she was premeditating this.  She had decided it a while back. 

PORTER:  Well, she at least purchased the bus ticket a week before. 

ABRAMS:  In her own name? 

PORTER:  No. 

ABRAMS:  In somebody else's name? 

PORTER:  In someone else's name. 

ABRAMS:  Anyone she knew or just she made up a name? 

PORTER:  It was a made-up name.  So you can draw your—a jury will have to draw conclusions from that and you can draw your own conclusions from that.  The evidence is just there. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  But that makes me think, based on our conversation on Saturday, you were talking about premeditation was going to come into play.  Now you have the premeditation, or it seems, and you have the phone call to your authorities, that sounds like it's a case you are going to be making. 

PORTER:  Well, again, I don't really want to sound evasive here but I really don't like to make decisions without all of the facts in my hand and without a chance to really digest all of the facts.  I mean, I'm aware of most of it and I know the facts but I think it's really irresponsible to try and predict what you're going to do until you take a look at everything that is there and I'm not going to do that. 

ABRAMS:  Fair enough.  Did she have any help getting there?  There is no bus station in Duluth, right? 

PORTER:  It doesn't look like it at this point based on statements that were made in Albuquerque and based on statements that have recently been made.  It appears that it was a prearranged taxi trip. 

ABRAMS:  So how did she get there, to the bus? 

PORTER:  By taxi from a location here in Duluth to the bus station. 

ABRAMS:  The New Mexico authorities are saying no charges here are going to be filed.  Does that have any impact on your decision-making? 

PORTER:  Not really.  They clearly had the jurisdiction and made the discretionary decision not to prosecute. As I said, I'm not quarreling with their decision.  They didn't have much involvement in the case, they didn't have really any stake in it.  So when you think about it, all they could have charged her with was a misdemeanor, although the federal agents could have charged her.  I think they really sort of said, “This really all originates out of Georgia and we're going to let Georgia deal with it,” and I can respect that decision. 

ABRAMS:  And in Georgia, as you pointed out to me on Saturday, there's a possibility of a misdemeanor charge, but there's also the possibility of a felony charge, right? 

PORTER:  That's correct.  There's a false report of a crime and there's also the charge of what we call false statements that is a felony. 

ABRAMS:  You and I talked earlier about the fact you have been getting a lot of e-mails on both sides of this? 

PORTER:  Yes.  It varies.  The last count was 386 e-mails today and yesterday.  I haven't read them all.  But the overwhelming majority of people are urging me to prosecute.  It's about seven-to-one for prosecution and then there's about the same number of people that are against prosecution that think I am a publicity hound that is just seeking media attention. 

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  And you told me that—of course, that is not going to come into play at all in your decision out here as we know. 

PORTER:  Well, it really can't.  I mean, the e-mails were from all over the country, and although I appreciate people expressing their opinion, it really can't be a factor in my decision. 

ABRAMS:  One final question.  Has the family said to you one way or another— I assume they don't want her to be charged, have they expressed that to you? 

PORTER:  There's been no contact between the family and my office; or an attorney on her behalf and my office. 

ABRAMS:  Danny Porter, thanks for coming back on the program.  We appreciate it. 

PORTER:  Thank you.

'The Abrams Report' airs weeknights, 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.

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