That's Mr. Neanderthal to You
"The details of that
day will be in my mind forever." Marion
Jessie is on the other end of the phone line, recalling with painful precision
the afternoon her youngest son was arrested: Sept. 30, 1997. "I had
come home from work that day. I was in the house getting ready to prepare
dinner. Across the street is a little hairdressers, and Greg was
sitting over there with two of his friends."
she says, one of the friends ran to the door and shouted to her oldest
son, "The cops just locked your brother up!" Jessie, who lives
in the Olney neighborhood of North Philadelphia, called the police station
and waited four excruciating hours before she learned that Greg had been
arrested for rape.
parent knows her child," Jessie says slowly. "I knew I couldnt
have possibly raised a child that was a rapist."
a quiet 15-year-old (though known as something of a jokester by friends
and family members), Gregory Wilburn turned inward, and Jessie worried
what would happen to her son during his incarceration, first in the maximum
security wing of the Youth Study Center, and later, in the Philadelphia
House of Correction in the Northeast. "I hate to put it in a certain
category," she says, "but these are hard-core criminalseven
though they are kids." Each visit ended in tears. "For one whole
year, my son never smiled. I was like, Say something."
And he would respond, "What do you want me to say? Tell me when am
I going home. Ive got to stay here, and I didnt do anything."
lawyer, Glenn Gilman C69, an attorney with the Defender Association
of Philadelphia, was convinced his client was the victim of mistaken identity.
But he needed a way to prove his conviction to authorities. He found that
in the expertise of two Penn physical anthropologists, Dr. Alan Mann and
Dr. Janet Monge Gr80. What follows is a story about the convergence
of sciencein particular, the quest to answer what distinguishes
humans from one anotherand justice, where such differences can mean
jail or freedom.
Aug. 1, 1997, a 17-year-old girl steps into a corner grocery and deli
to buy a loaf of bread for her aunt. Walking close behind her, a little
too close, is a young man, slim and unshaven. When she leaves, he follows
her out the door. Their movements are recorded in grainy detail by the
stores surveillance camera.
houses away from her home, the stranger grabs her, holds a knife to her
throat and takes her down a neighbors narrow driveway where he unzips
her skirt, pulls down her underwear and attempts to sodomize her. Rubbing
himself against her buttocks, he ejaculates without penetrating. As he
walks up the driveway, the neighbor confronts him, and he flees.
the victim contacts police, their response is noteworthy for what they
dont do. They dont take her to a hospital to gather physical
evidence, even though that is standard procedure in the 72 hours following
a sexual assault. They dont collect her underwear (she would supply
it to them nearly eight months later). And they dont bother to interview
neighbors who might have seen the assailant.
months later, when the victim is walking to the same store to pick up
a copy of the surveillance tape for investigators, she spots Gregory Wilburn
on a street corner with two friends. Believing that he is her attacker,
she calls police.
Wilburn, a 10th-grader at the time, is arrested
on the spot. Because his family cant produce the $5,000 required
for a $50,000 bail, he is held in two different correctional facilities
under a 1996 Pennsylvania law requiring juveniles accused of violent felonies
to be prosecuted as adults.