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 hairdresser’s, and Greg was sitting over there with two of his friends."
Suddenly, 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.
"A parent knows her child," Jessie says slowly. "I knew I couldn’t have possibly raised a child that was a rapist."
Already 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 criminals—even 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. I’ve got to stay here, and I didn’t do anything."
Wilburn’s lawyer, Glenn Gilman C’69, 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 Gr’80. What follows is a story about the convergence of science—in particular, the quest to answer what distinguishes humans from one another—and justice, where such differences can mean jail or freedom.
On 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 store’s surveillance camera.
Two houses away from her home, the stranger grabs her, holds a knife to her throat and takes her down a neighbor’s 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.
When the victim contacts police, their response is noteworthy for what they don’t do. They don’t take her to a hospital to gather physical evidence, even though that is standard procedure in the 72 hours following a sexual assault. They don’t collect her underwear (she would supply it to them nearly eight months later). And they don’t bother to interview neighbors who might have seen the assailant.
Two 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 can’t 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.




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