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Runaway Bride Indicted

The runaway bride is heading to court instead of going on her honeymoon.

Jennifer Wilbanks, the 32-year-old woman who hopped a bus and vanished just before her wedding day, was indicted Wednesday on charges of telling police a phony story about being kidnapped and sexually assaulted.

"At some point there has to be a consequence for lying to the police," District Attorney Danny Porter said.

Wilbanks was charged with making a false statement and making a false police report. She could get up to six years in prison and $11,000 in fines if convicted. She could also be ordered to reimburse authorities for the more than $50,000 cost of the search set off by her disappearance.

A warrant will be issued for Wilbanks' arrest within the next few days, and arrangements will probably be made for her to turn herself in, the district attorney said.

Wilbanks' family has said she checked into a medical facility after her return for treatment of "physical and mental issues." The have not said where.

Her attorney, Lydia Sartain, had no immediate comment, but said before the charges were announced: "The citizens of the county will be ill-served by an attempted prosecution."

"This case is all about symbolism and about the law enforcement community using this high-profile story to remind citizens about how bad an idea it is to lie to the police about anything," says Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "And now that this has been done I expect a deal within a fairly short time.

"This isn't the sort of case you bring to trial. Instead of jail, and in addition to a fine and community service, she ought to be forced to endlessly watch reruns of the cable television coverage of her disappearance," says Cohen.

Wilbanks, a nurse, disappeared from her Duluth home on April 26, four days before her 600-guest wedding. She took a bus to Las Vegas and then Albuquerque, N.M., where she called authorities with a story about having been abducted.

But under questioning, she recanted. She has since said she fled Georgia because of unspecified personal issues.

She returned to Georgia on April 30, the day she was to have been married in a ceremony with 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen.

Several state and county agencies have already said they will not ask Wilbanks to reimburse them for $10,000 in search costs.

Wilbanks has offered to pay $13,250 to the city of Duluth to help offset the costs its police officers incurred in the three-day search. Mayor Shirley Lassetter said the city is prepared to accept that offer, if it is made in writing, and would write off the rest -- about $30,000.

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