DULUTH, Ga. – A jilted groom and a town full of puzzled friends and relatives may not be all that Jennifer Wilbanks (search) faces, as authorities weighed the evidence and the legal issues on Monday to determine whether she should be charged with a crime.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter (search) promised to look into whether Wilbanks, 32, violated the law by falsely reporting a crime.
Wilbanks, who had vanished Tuesday after saying she was going out jogging, initially told authorities she was abducted. But she later admitted she took a cross-country bus trip to Las Vegas, Nev., to avoid her lavish, 600-guest wedding, which had been set for Saturday, and then went on to Albuquerque, N.M.
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.
"If there's criminal responsibility, that's something I have to do something about," Porter said. "I think it's really going to depend on the circumstances on how this was done."
Porter said he would speak to police in Albuquerque, where Wilbanks called her fiance, John Mason, and police on Friday and reported that she had been kidnapped.
In addition to the potential for criminal charges, Duluth Mayor Shirley Lasseter (search) said she is looking into the possibility of suing Wilbanks to recover the cost of the search that was mounted after her disappearance. Lasseter estimated the cost at $100,000.
"We feel a tad betrayed and some are very hurt about it," the mayor said.
The mayor said city officials would like to hear from Wilbanks' family to see if "we should work with this lady on some recourse other than legally."
Appearing Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America," Porter said authorities have evidence that Wilbanks' disappearance "was not just a spur of the moment thing." He noted that she had cut her hair and said there was evidence she bought the bus ticket ahead of time and secretly set aside cash.
"I will make the decision as far as whether or not I can legally do it today," Porter told NBC's "Today."
Despite angry calls from some residents, authorities in Albuquerque said they had no plans to charge Wilbanks, though they didn't rule out the possibility entirely.
"We have discretion. We are human beings. We have feelings and we are professional at the same time," said Albuquerque police spokeswoman Trish Ahrensfield.
Authorities in Albuquerque befriended the woman. Wilbanks boarded an airline flight home wearing a new FBI hat, blazer, polo shirt and pants and carrying a new tote bag and teddy bear, a gift from the aviation police chief. She flew first-class — on a ticket bought by her parents — and said she planned to name the bear "Al," for Albuquerque.
"Law enforcement is really making a major move to deal with people in crisis," Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schulz said Sunday. "Miss Wilbanks was definitely a person in crisis."
But 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. But Porter said Wilbanks could be charged for reporting her kidnapping story by phone to Duluth Police Chief Randy Belcher.