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Should Atlanta Run-Away Bride Face Charges?

Aired May 2, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Donna Brazile. On the right, Bay Buchanan.

In the CROSSFIRE, the runaway bride. A nation wide manhunt, but Jennifer Wilbanks claim of being kidnapped turns into a admission of cold feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been determined that Jennifer has some issues the family is not aware of.

ANNOUNCER: Hundreds of people and police search for the woman. Should a nervous bride-to-be face criminal charges over sparking the massive search or making a false calm she was abducted?

Today on CROSSFIRE. Live from the George Washington University, Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan.



Her family and friends were scared. Her fiance took a polygraph test to show he shouldn't be a suspect. Jennifer Wilbanks finally called 911 concocting a story about being crammed into some van and carried away.

Cold feet or not, someone should be held responsible for the resources wasted looking for the run away bride.

DONNA BRAZILE, HOST: Well, you know, it's not the first time someone has had a case of cold feet before their wedding. She was scared and confused. And just a few days she had to face hundreds of people in what was going to be the biggest day of her life. Jennifer Wilbanks let the pressure get to her. But she's home now, back with the people who love her. Why not leave it at that?

We'll answer that question, but first, here's our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

It seems as if George W. Bush has lost any hold he had on public support. That's what we're seeing in a news CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. 49 percent of Americans now disapprove of the of why -- the way Bush is handling his job, only 48 percent approve. Those disapproval ratings are about the same, whatever people are asked about the economy, world affairs or Iraq. When asked about the way the president is handling high gas prices, disapproval rate shoots up to 67 percent with 27 percent thinking he's doing OK.

So after 100 days into his second term, the president gets failing grades across the board on every major issue. Maybe the self- professed C-student can hold on to the dream of every middle schooler and hope his P.E. grade will carry him through, Bay.

BUCHANAN: Listen, George Bush's problems are a year late for you guys. He has been reelected. He's got another two and half -- three and a half years in. And you know, you should expect problems now. The gas prices are up. There's some real skittishness out there on the economy and the market. So, it's a little rough spot. But I think George Bush knows how to bring it back.

BRAZILE: I have a two word response, lame duck, Bay. This president doesn't want to become a lame duck too soon. He started off with a big bad bowl of gin, and everybody knows it's (INAUDIBLE). Social Security, rising gas prices, never ending war. He needs help.

BUCHANAN: I've got two words for you to take care of the lame duck, "nuclear option." That's what we hope for in a couple of weeks here.

Nancy Pelosi found herself inside the glass house this weekend when travel questions concerning her staff came up. The House minority leader has been one of the loudest critics of Tom DeLay. Now we learn her staff has an atrocious record when it comes to reporting their privately paid excursions. They took 42 trips in the last few years, and failed to report 29 percent of them, including one that was paid for by the same questionable group that put up the money for a DeLay trip. When the Congresswoman was asked about the missing travel reports she called them technicalities on reporting. Technicalities. Excuse me, the whole reports were missing. She added that her staff was not familiar with the law. But obviously clever enough to get paid vacations. It's called hypocrisy, Mrs. Pelosi. Before calling on Tom DeLay to resign you need to start firing the violators outside your own office.

BRAZILE: I believe as a former Congressional staffers that the rules are the rules, and no one is above the law. Everyone should file those reports in a timely fashion. And Nancy Pelosi is absolutely right, her staffer should file that report. Look, this is different from Tom DeLay. Tom DeLay is being accused of giving favoritism to lobbyist who pay for his trips. He's in a position to know better and that's why it's a different situation.

BUCHANAN: I don't think so.

BRAZILE: All right, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson (INAUDIBLE) has figured out what is wrong with America. All our problems are because of those out of control federal judges. This weekend, Mr. Robertson shared a couple observations about some of the people on the federal bench.


REV. PAT ROBERTSON, CHRISTIAN COALITION: You look over the course of 100 years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists whose fly into buildings.


BRAZILE: I guess we need to tell that to the loved ones of the 3,000 Americans killed in that horrific attack on our country at the World Trade Center, and of course, here at the Pentagon. And perhaps we should also tell that to the family and friends of the more than 1,700 American whose have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pat Robertsons of the world are poisonous to the national dialogue injecting their venom into nearly every aspect of public life. This is shameful commentary coming from a man of the cloth

BUCHANAN: You know, Donna. This man has an opinion, he has a right to that opinion, and it's well-founded. He's talking about when you look over a 100-year period. These terrorists are no threat to this nation. If we have a real problem in this country it's going to come from within and on that I agree.

BRAZILE: Seven filibuster judges and then all of sudden we're not concerned with terrorists?

BUCHANAN: This country -- we're concerned about terrorists.

BRAZILE: These Islamics are out to kill American citizens. And we should fight them and hard. Seven filibuster judges leftover.

BUCHANAN: He's not talking about that.

BRAZILE: But them aside.

BUCHANAN: If you are pining for a bare knuckles brawl in the Democratic presidential nomination, you may get your wish. Democrats not so lovable loser from last year Mr. John Kerry appears to be getting ready for another shot at the presidency. There are reports that his family wants him to run and that he's adding millions of new names to his e-mail list and keeping his Web site alive. And he's also collecting those precious IOUs by hitting the road to raise money for other Democrats. While there is a 600 pound gorilla named Hillary already in this ring, Kerry may be able to make the same case he did against Howard Dean that he is more electable in a general election. But I wonder if it will work this time around. Not according to 90 Democratic insider who are surveyed by "The National Journal." When asked who will get the party's nod the New Senator was the overwhelming choice, John Edwards came in second, and Kerry came in fifth.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, Al Gore came in the top 10, so that makes me feel good. But let me just say this, Hillary Clinton is on a first hand -- first name basis, like Elvis and Oprah everyone knows Hillary. She is great, she's fantastic. I have a little secret, I'm one of those insiders, and she was my number one choice for 2008.

BUCHANAN: I bet she was. But you know those insiders are also saying they are concerned she can't go did distance in the general election against the Republicans.

BRAZILE: She can win 20 states that Gore and Kerry carried. And guess what, I think she'll take Florida.

BUCHANAN: I don't know about that.

BRAZILE: She's known across the country as the run away bride. Should Jennifer Wilbanks face charges beyond the humiliation she's already endured? We'll debate her case with two well-known attorneys. .

Next, she's the first lady of laugh, find out why George Bush today is reacting to Laura's comedy routine later on CROSSFIRE.


BUCHANAN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Even though Jennifer Wilbanks' nickname "the run-away bride" comes from a Julia Roberts comedy, this is a serious situation. There are real crimes taking place in the world every day. Shouldn't this young woman be responsible for diverting scarce police resources because of her so- called cold feet? A pair of noted attorneys join us in the CROSSFIRE today.

From Los Angeles, defense attorney Gloria Allred and in Watertown, Massachusetts, former prosecutor Wendy Murphy. Ladies, thank you both for joining us.

BRAZILE: Hi, Wendy.

You know, Jennifer is in enough hot water. Why should this woman face jail time or be charged with a crime when all she had was a case of bad judgment and perhaps the case of the blues? Why should she be prosecuted?

WENDY MURPHY, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, because, Donna, she caused an awful lot of harm, and that's what we do in society when people cause harm to others, especially when it's serious harm, we prosecute them. It's a responsible way to respond to this case because -- and let me outline what she did to cause harm. She not only wasted -- I think it's about up to $100,000 now -- of taxpayer dollars. She diverted precious law enforcement resources which means cops weren't looking for the real criminals out there that we need to worry ourselves about.

And, maybe the most important thing she did wrong that need redress is, she caused her fiance to become the focus of scorn and ridicule and harsh judgment. And I mean, I apologize to the guy but I had him drawn and quartered, not only because he refused to take a polygraph -- which I still find suspicious -- but, you know, this is a case where that guy was on the hot seat because common sense tells us it's often the fiance or husband who killed his missing wife. She's responsible for that. She should be prosecuted because that's an awful lot of...

BRAZILE: She has been humiliated already. She didn't call for this worldwide media attention. She didn't ask for all of the resources that the mayor and everyone else put behind this case. They put a lot of resources, we all know, because the media was following this case. Why should she have to pay for that?

MURPHY: Donna, do you know, she's a grown woman, and reasonable people can and should understand that, if they are going to go missing, they are going to cause public outcry. They are going to cause law enforcement to become concerned. She knew her parents would be looking for her, her fiance would be looking for her. It doesn't matter whether she wanted the media's attention. She is responsible for it because she's an adult, and the kind of harm she caused is so serious, and with the whole country watching, everyone's wondering, is this something you can get away with?


BUCHANAN: Gloria, let me get in here. We do have a point. There is a point, here, that enormous sums of money were spent by this community to try to recov -- to try to find this girl. Should we not prosecute at least so we can recover this kind of money? Should not Georgia move ahead on this?

GLORIA ALLRED, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No, I think what she should do is, she should voluntarily pay the cost of law enforcement's efforts, the $100,000 or whatever the amount is. She should come forth and say that's what she will do. Is there criminal intent? Is there a need to prosecute? I don't think so, Bay. I mean, what do we think? Do we think she's a danger to the community? Do we think there's going to be an epidemic of run away brides, going to Greyhound bus stations, getting on the bus and going to Las Vegas? What are you going do? Are you going to prosecute her and then convict her and then sentence her to 20 years of married life? I don't think so. I think it's ridiculous.


BUCHANAN: Gloria, all that is very interesting, but we do have a case here of an individual who has lied to authorities, and when you lie to authorities and they take enormous efforts, the next time somebody lies -- if we don't prosecute -- people will think this isn't such a big deal. I'll try to sneak out on this. We cover ourselves, and what happens? Pretty soon law enforcement officers wait a couple extra days before they follow up, and maybe volunteers wait a couple day for more evidence they are really missing, and real people who are lost or have been kidnapped may indeed find themselves without the aid they need in time.

ALLRED: Right. Nobody is suggesting, Bay...

BUCHANAN: So -- then we need to prosecute.

ALLRED: ...that anybody repeat this. But the point is this: I mean, does anybody think that she really planned to walk down the aisle of an airport with a blanket over her head instead of walk down the aisle of a church with a bridal veil on her? This is a young woman who freaked. She got scared. She had a breakdown. She was under pressure. Look, all of us have done stupid things when we were young, before we were married and a lot of us have done a lot of stupid things after we were married.

BUCHANAN: Some of us did it when we got married!

ALLRED: Ah! Right.

BRAZILE: Now we know the truth. But, Wendy, what evidence do we have that she premeditated this? That this wasn't a sudden case of panic attack? What evidence do we know of right now, other than the fact she may have cut her hair?

MURPHY: We know that she bought the ticket in advance. I am not sure of how much planning there was. I think it's a factor, but it's not the dispositive question. You know, lying to law enforcement is what she did that's the most wrong here. If she just ran away and didn't call her folks, that's not enough in and of itself to make me want to prosecute here. She lied. She lied in a way that was racist. She said the guy was his Hispanic. She played the race guard in a way that's insulting to the integrity of law enforcement and the integrity of this country. She lied in a way that put a lot of people at risk, and Martha Stewart sat in prison for five months for a lie that did a whole lot less harm than what this woman did.

You can't just turn a blind eye to this. I'm not saying she should go to prison for the rest of her life. I do think the punishment should be some kind of community service and pay back, but I'll tell you this much -- she is not going to pay it back unless she is prosecuted.

BRAZILE: What about a simple apology?

BUCHANAN: Let me ask you a question here -- and something you were talking about a little earlier. This is what the police chief of Albuquerque said: "Law enforcement is really making a major move to deal with people in crises." They, out there, decided not to prosecute. "Miss Wilbanks is a person in crisis." Can you tell me of anybody committing crimes out there who is not a person of crisis, in crisis?

ALLRED: Well, yes, but there are different kinds of crises.


ALLRED: We all know the reality is, everybody does not get prosecuted when they do something wrong, and we know that. There's a lot of discretion and law enforcement will tell you that. But this is a young woman who obviously had a breakdown. Does anybody really think that she's going to be a repeat offender? Does anybody think -- she is humiliated enough. She's been punished. She's just being ridiculed.

BUCHANAN: Gloria, what if she says -- what if she doesn't volunteer to pay any money back? How is it that this county is going to recover the cost unless they prosecute and use that as real leverage in order to get the money back. What are they going to do? Just, say, OK, sorry, you know, I'm sorry you got cold feet. It only cost us $150,000.

ALLRED: Well, I understand that the mayor is looking at civil options, and the possibility of whether or not she could file a lawsuit to recover the costs. That's a different thing than saying that somebody should go to jail for five years if she is prosecuted for a felony or as a misdemeanor to go to jail for one year? I think that's an overreaction. This is a young woman who has been punished and going to have to talk to her friends and relatives and do a lot of explaining and be embarrassed. She will never forget this the rest of her life.


BUCHANAN: Everybody -- no, exactly, no one is saying it. But, when we come back we're going to talk a little bit more about this exact issue. When we return, I'm going to ask, what exactly should be her punishment? Maybe some other questions as well.

And, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has a message for North Korea. Wolf Blitzer tells us all about it right after this.



Coming up at the top of the hour another worrisome twist in the ongoing standoff involving the U.S. and its allies, and North Korea. And today the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has a tough message for the communist country.

A key figure in the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal enter a plea. We'll tell you about private First Class Lynndie England's day in court.

And we'll also have the latest on that daring rescue off the North Carolina coast, that's being called nothing short than a miracle.

All those stories and much more just minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BRAZILE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Jennifer Wilbanks family and the rest of us were surprised when we heard that she had admitted to a case of jitters before her wedding. But her loved ones said the important thing was she had been found alive. Hasn't she already learned her lesson? Why drag things out with an expensive prosecution. Still in the CROSSFIRE former prosecutor Wendy Murphy and defense attorney Gloria Red.

BUCHANAN: Wendy, I want to throw this one at you as a technical situation here. What I don't understand here, she didn't commit her crime until after the police had incurred all the expense and search of her. How can they prosecute her and then try to recover money that was already spent. I mean, that wasn't related to the crime.

MURPHY: Well, it's an interesting legal question whether it is related. I actually think it is. Although she didn't technical commit the lie, which is the crime until days later, it's for sure logically connected that she did cause law enforcement to endure all the expenses. So, I think she should be prosecuted as was the Wisconsin student I think a couple years ago. She was prosecuted given probation. As a condition of probation she had to pay back the money there. And that's a fair thing to do. Not just because it's leverage, but because it is -- the harm that was endured by law enforcement, by society in terms of tax dollars, it's connected enough for me. And if I'm the judge I'm going to say look, even though you didn't commit your crime until we'd incurred the vast majority of the $100,000 worth of expenses, you owe it us. And I don't want to incur -- I don't want to make the mayor file a civil lawsuits. That cost money. That costs more money from the city to go through all the expenses of a civil lawsuit. I want her to pay up now. Hey, her father can just use the money he was going to buy the 600 chicken dinners for the wedding.


BRAZILE: Wendy, you know, us Southerners now we go beyond fried chicken, we're into hors d'oeuvre. But Gloria, let me ask you a question, her family raised a substantial amount of reward money. Can't her family just turn it over to the local officials without admitting guilt?

ALLRED: Well, absolutely. And I think what she could -- even if the local official just wanted to send a letter, my guess is it could be resolved. Chicken dinners. The real chicken was the run away bride. She was the one who chickened out. And you know what, a lot of times young women when they are thinking about getting married it is a scary proposition. They don't know if they are going to be entering into a relationship that's going to be a dictatorship or equal partnership. They don't know...

BUCHANAN: We don't want to hear that Gloria.

ALLRED: ... what all the responsibility are going to be.

She shouldn't have put her friends and family and the whole community through this. But my guess.

BUCHANAN: Gloria. Gloria.


BUCHANAN: Don't even tell me about this. You feminist out there have been telling all these women go on the front line, but they can't handle saying no to a guy when they're getting married. Come on now don't use that...


BUCHANAN: She's a 32-year-old adult. MURPHY: Come on, let me just -- can I just jump in here? Because Bay is absolutely right. There are so many alternatives short of falsely accusing people of crime, and running away for days and letting people think you are dead. There so many alternatives that reasonable people female or male can do to avoid getting married, Gloria. And I actually, think there's a great deal of gender bias going in here. I love my friend Gloria. But there's a lot of gender bias. If a guy did this, we would be all over him for prosecution.


ALLRED: Run away fathers who don't pay child support, and a lot of them never get prosecuted.

BRAZILE: There you go Gloria.

ALLRED: Come on, there's one run away bride who basically got scared.

BUCHANAN: Gloria, it's over!

BRAZILE: Thank you. Thank you all so much for your great commentary.

Right up next, President Bush reviews his wife's stand-up routine.


BRAZILE: The annual White House correspondent dinner was Saturday night with Cedric "The Entertainer" acting as M.C. He was so funny.

But First Lady Laura Bush was the show stopper. The dinner is a chance for the president to throw a few zingers at the assembled media. But this year Mrs. Bush interrupted her husband to poke a little fun at his expense. Saying he likes to go to bed early, while she stays up by herself to watch "Desperate House Wives." And at an event this morning the president commented on his wife's talent.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A couple of funny lines one evening, and she gets carried away. Laura Leno Bush.


BUCHANAN: You know, but there was a couple jokes I think were a little too crude. But there's a reason she is a very classy lady. And I think there's a reason her polls never do drop -- Donna.

BRAZILE: Twelve hours and she never met him once at the library. I like that joke too.

From the left I'm Donna Brazile. That's -- that's it for CROSSFIRE. BUCHANAN: And from the right I'm Bay Buchanan. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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