The Runaway Bride

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On Tuesday night we discussed the "runaway bride" (search) and whether she should get charged with a misdemeanor or felony. It does not seem to me to be an easy decision and I don't envy the D.A. or the grand jury.

Yes, it is true that Jennifer Wilbanks (search) lied to the police, that she violated the law and that punishment is appropriate. We can't have people lying to the police and wasting valuable resources. But what is just punishment? We don't want to over-punish or under-punish — we want to do what is right. That is not an easy job determining.

I look at it this way — if I were in her shoes, would I rather do 60 days quietly in jail or be branded the "runaway bride" with all the jokes, stigma, etc., for the rest of my life? I don't know about you - but I would rather do 60 days. Yes, she brought this on herself — but I think we should consider that she has already been punished with the proverbial scarlet letter in the form of "runaway bride." She cost the city about $40,000 — she should pay that back. But I am not convinced we as a society gain anything from putting her in jail or giving her a conviction on her record. This is not to say that what she did was "OK" — but rather to try and fashion the best remedy under the circumstances. If you think she has been punished sufficiently already — by her own doing — it is time to move on and not charge and convict her.

I go back and forth on what I think I would do ... maybe it is easy for you what should be done ... but I am just not sure what I think is the right thing to do. It was interesting that our entire legal panel — including two defense attorneys last night would charge her with a crime.

Here are some of your e-mails, pulled randomly from the show account:

E-mail No. 1

You guys are concerned about the bride getting mental help. How about her boyfriend? He needs more help than she does. He needs mental help and she needs six months in jail. Not like it is her first time.
Jerry Rochelle
Altus, OK

E-mail No. 2

Kindly allow me to help you with the Jennifer Wilbanks decision ... LOL. First of all, as you know, it is not a crime for an adult to knowingly and willingly disappear in this country. It is not the personal responsibility of the person who "disappeared," if the police of their own doing spent time and resources searching for that alleged missing person.
Jennifer Wilbanks gave false information to the FBI and the Albuquerque police, both of whom have waived jurisdiction. Additionally, neither the FBI or the APD "searched" for any Hispanic man or Caucasian woman for the commission of a crime. Therefore, at best, we have a situation of Wilbanks lying to the Georgia sheriff over the telephone.
I say have the woman pay some sort of civil restitution and move on! I'm sure the State of Georgia has bigger problems to worry about.
Shani S.
Brooklyn, NY

E-mail No. 3

This is one time I think I agree with you.
She did not commit a "crime" until she called the police. By this time, they were very suspect of her story and were convinced she was lying a few hours later. From the time she committed the "crime" to the time she admitted her guilt, virtually NO resources were spent.
Unfortunately, many people were very worried and a lot of local resources were spent due to her deception. She SHOULD reimburse the local government for the expenses incurred. I'm not sure she can right the wrong she did to those close to her.
Edward Hetherington
Brewster, NY

E-mail No. 4

I sure hope the groom takes a very long look at what his future may hold if he marries this woman. I shudder to think what could have happened if there had been a legit emergency and the manpower was not there to deal with it because of this goofy broad. She certainly deserves some serious punishment and heavy duty head shrinking.
Nancy Laker
South Bend, IN

E-mail No. 5

Bernie is right ... there is no jurisdiction in Georgia. New Mexico is the only one who could have charged her with any crime. The D.A. should encourage her to repay the costs ... but she did not violate any law in Georgia! She needs mental health help and she is getting it. As always, love the show.
Steven Nickerson
Palo Alto, CA

E-mail No. 6

Everyone refers to this young lady as the "runaway bride" — she never got to the altar! She's the "runaway" what?
Jack Shook,
Irma, WI

E-mail No. 7

When I first heard the news, I was worried about Jennifer. As things went on there are pictures of her and her fiance that says a lot. The poor girl looks like she is not living in a real world. Her ex-boyfriend showed some judgment, probably based on his history with her, when he turned her away. I think she has defrauded all of us a bit but I think she needs help rather than judgment for a crime. We will all see how it plays out however.
Chas E. Moser
Ukiah, CA

E-mail No. 8

At last the D.A. is going to do his job? Again, I agree with your panel of experts — the woman needs to be punished for her irresponsible actions — and the sooner the better — before someone else disrupts the nation as she did. We can't believe you are 'Cowardly Custard' — surely you jest?
Beverly and Don Fowler
Cleveland, OK

E-mail No. 9 — from Laura Ingle at the Michael Jackson (search) trial:

Subject: Laura Note

Jay Leno has seemed to put everyone in a good mood today ... there's been a lot of laughter inside the courtroom this morning.

Leno cracked up the jury, the judge, the attorneys in the courtroom — even Jackson's defense attorney Tom Mesereau. The smiles didn't last long for Jackson's defense attorney, as Leno backfired a bit. Leno said he talked to the teenage accuser when he was really sick with cancer — the defense had hinted in opening statements that Leno would testify that he was hit up for money. Leno said the child never asked him for any, nor did he give him any. Mesereau had also said Leno would tell the jury he had heard the mom in the background coaching her son what to say. He said, no. He heard a woman's voice, but didn't know of it was a nurse, or the mom, it was just a woman's voice. He said the only thing he thought was weird, was that the teenage boy was "overly effusive." He said, "I'm a 50-year-old comedian ... not Batman." (Courtroom laughter).

As Leno was excused, he couldn't resist a plug for his show, "We'll have Renee Zellweger on the program tonight."

I mentioned the good mood at times in the courtroom. There was a microphone malfunction at the lectern. It was crackling, popping and fuzzing out. The judge asked the bailiff to replace it — the judge asked Tom Mesereau to test it, he started talking and it wasn't working — silence. The judge said, "OK, that's perfect." The jury roared and attorneys laughed.

A string of quickie witnesses came next. One of which is a 9-year-old relative of actor Marlon Brando. He was SO little! When he took the stand, you could barely see him on the stand. His little shaggy brown hair sticking up just above the rim of the witness stand. He was at Neverland when the accuser was there. He was asked if he saw the boy and his brother misbehaving. He replied, "sometimes." He was asked gently by defense attorney Robert Sanger if he ever saw the boys throwing candy or popcorn at people. Answer: "No." Did you see them mistreat the animals at the zoo? Answer, "No." Obviously, he was going for something else. Prosecution did not have any questions for the little boy. Jurors smiled at him when he walked by.

The public lottery was huge — 105 today. There is a tangible charge of energy in the air. Everyone knows the end is coming. Chris Tucker could be talking the stand soon — he is said to be the defense's "closer." I was watching the attorneys huddle up at the break. It felt like watching coaches with a football team, strategizing in the last few seconds of a game.

The front gate outside the courthouse has fans dressed in white robes, purple and red sashes, signs that read, "The wicked will flee and the righteous will shine as a bright light."

More to come....

E-mail No. 10 — I could not resist this next e-mail. I do not know the answer:

Please ask Mr. Williams were he bought his tie. It is so beautiful! This would be such a nice present for my son. I would also buy the tie from him.
Thank you,
Antje Rode

E-mail No. 11

Fact: The little lady is of age, she can leave when she wants! She doesn't have to explain anything to anyone! She didn't commit any crime by leaving! As far as New Mexico, they didn't charge her with anything, that's not her fault! They need to leave her alone!
James H. Cooper
Nashville, TN

E-mail No. 12 — from Jim Hammer at the Jackson trial:

Trial Note — May 24, 2005

Today Jay Leno was certainly a dud for the defense. Mary Holzer, on the other hand, was a bombshell. She testified that the accuser’s mother told her back during the JC Penney’s lawsuit that she put her kids in acting classes so she could teach them to repeat her stories and learn to say what she coached them to say.

The big question that keeps crossing my mind is why a lawyer as skilled and smart as Tom Mesereau would promise the jury at the start of the case that Leno and others would testify that the mother asked them all for money. Mesereau told the jury in his opening statement that these were "promises" and then made a "contract" with the jury: "Hold it against me" if I break my word to you. I wonder as I sit in that courtroom as this trial winds down whether the jury remembers the defense promises. I wonder if they will hold it against Jackson or his lawyer. Will the jury wonder why the defense seemingly mislead them or will they think that such inconsistencies are simply inevitable in a long trial. Do jurors simply expect this from lawyers?

Mesereau has done a fine job overall in this trial and, in his defense, I think he relied on police reports for his opening statement. Sources have told me that he did not even have access to the some of the witnesses before they testified. But then why make these promises? It’s one of the questions I am waiting to ask the jurors once this trial is over.
Jim Hammer
Santa Maria Courthouse

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