Money may not buy happiness but, as Jennifer Wilbanks can attest, it can cover the down payment on a little peace of mind. On May 31, a month after Wilbanks, 32, made headlines as the "runaway bride," her lawyer handed over a check for $13,249.09 to the city of Duluth, Ga., to help cover the costs of the police search conducted after she bolted days before her April 30 wedding. In exchange for Wilbanks's cash, the town—which devoted an additional $30,000 in man-hours to the case—won't sue for the full bill. "We're not whining," says Duluth mayor Shirley Fanning Lasseter. "Now we can get this over and behind us."
Wilbanks herself still has a long way to go before she is clear of the mess she created. On May 25 Gwinnett County district attorney Danny Porter announced that she had been indicted on one felony and one misdemeanor charge stemming from her bogus kidnapping story and faces up to six years behind bars. The case is on hold, however, while Wilbanks undergoes treatment at Ridgeview Institute, a private mental health facility in Smyrna, Ga., which she entered in early May because of unspecified physical and mental problems. "She has good days and bad," says her lawyer Lydia Sartain. "Some days she is overwhelmed with her situation."
Wilbanks gets frequent phone calls and visits from the man she was supposed to marry, 32-year-old John Mason. According to one of his friends, Andy Parsons, Mason still wants to wed Wilbanks despite her fleeing their nuptials, not to mention the fact that in the late 1990s she had been arrested twice for shoplifting and once for felony theft. (In one episode at a Wal-Mart, she stashed $37 worth of merchandise in her purse, including a copy of Elegant Bride magazine and a video of the film Clueless.) "Some stuff has come out," says Parsons, "but this is all part of the healing process. John's position remains unchanged."
The Wilbanks camp hopes the DA will prove equally understanding and agree to some sort of deal that would spare Wilbanks, who has lost her job as a medical worker at a clinic, any prison time. "I don't think her life has been ruined," says Sartain. "I think it has been ruined for the next couple of years."
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