Jennifer Wilbanks, the so-called runaway bride, faces one felony and one misdemeanor charge for making false statements to police after her April 26 disappearance just days before her impending wedding.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, in suburban Atlanta, made the announcement at a press conference Wednesday morning, and said the next step in the case will be a bench warrant issued for her arrest. After that, Wilbanks will need to turn herself in.
He said the lesson of the case was, “Never lie to the police.” The false-statement felony charge carries a maximum one- to five-year prison sentence and a fine up to $10,000, while the misdemeanor charge of reporting a false crime can bring up to 12 months behind bars and a $1,000 fine.
Any other restitution to be made would be up to the court, Porter said.
A grand jury convened in the matter from 9:15-10:30 a.m. Wednesday, said Porter, adding that the decision to file charges was based on the jury’s examination of evidence obtained to date, including that which was gathered after Wilbanks was located.
Mayor Shirley Lasseter of Duluth, Ga., where Wilbanks lives, told reporters last week that Jennifer’s family was asked to pay $43,000 for the search for the bride, days before her scheduled wedding. Lasseter told CNN on Wednesday that Wilbanks’s attorneys have countered with an offer of just under $14,000 – to cover the overtime expenses in the investigation.
A spokesman for Wilbanks told Atlanta TV station WXIA that the 32-year-old is still in rehabilitation for unnamed issues and has no comment, though an attorney for Wilbanks appeared on Wednesday morning’s Today show and said that her client was making progress in the facility. Lydia Sartain did not elaborate, but did tell the Associated Press: “The citizens of the county will be ill-served by an attempted prosecution.”
As some 500 guests prepared to attend her wedding to husband-to-be John Mason, Wilbanks spent between three and four days on buses fleeing from Atlanta to Las Vegas to Albuquerque, where she called police and said she’d been abducted.
But under questioning, Wilbanks recanted and said she fled home because of unspecified personal issues.