Justice in the Bones,
In July 1998, Glenn Gilman took
over Wilburns defense from a colleague who was transferred to another
office. The boy he visited in prison was quiet and kind of depressed,
and like so many other defendants that its his duty to represent,
he avowed his innocence. Gilman believed him.
Gilman is a balding, thickly-mustached
man, who at age 52 looks, as one newspaper columnist observed, as though
he could be Richard Dreyfusss younger brother. He went to Penn in
the late 1960s and soaked up a fair amount of the idealism of the decade.
"The career choice then was law school or the Peace Corps,"
he recalls. "And some little bit of me thought I had to do something
that would help me make a living, so I chose law school."
After graduating from American University Law
School in Washington, he returned to Philadelphia, where he worked as
an assistant attorney general in the Pennsylvania Justice Department.
"It was 1972, and there was a certain excitement because the new
governor, Milton Schappa non-politicians politicianhad
attracted a lot of young people to get into state government and make
He went on to work for the U.S. Department of
Energy, prosecuting oil companies for violating price regulations. "Then
Carter lost to Reagan, and within a week, there were no price regulations."
So Gilman became a public defender in Philadelphia. "I enjoyed it,"
he says. "Even though you couldnt make any money, I was having
fun and I really felt excited about helping individual people."
Gilmans two sons were growing, however,
and by 1990, he realized he soon would need to start paying for their
college education. "I went into private practice, and I represented
people trying to get money because other people had injured them. And
I didnt like that all that much," he says quietly. "After
five years of it, I just didnt want that to be my life, so I came
back here." Here is an office building at 17th and Arch streets,
where the waiting room is lined with orange, hard-backed chairs in which
clients doze or sit with folded arms, splayed legs and guardedly blank
faces. Most of those waiting for appointments on this late-August morning
are young, male and African-American.
Gilmans office is furnished with a couple
of standard-issue metal desks, file cabinets and a striped couch. He picks
up his own phone and responds to a pager which goes off frequentlyoften
when clients, whove been mulling over their cases from jail, experience
minor epiphanies. His caseload runs the gamut of criminal charges, including
robbery, drug, rape and aggravated assault, but he draws the line at homicides.
"I would be too emotionally involved because I have a strong, visceral,
moralistic anti-capital-punishment streak."
Leaning back in his swivel chair, with his dress-down
loafers propped up on his desk (he wont be in court this particular
week), Gilman tells how his own work led him to collaboratetwicewith
a couple of anthropologists from his alma mater:
1984, one of Gilmans clients
was picked out of a photo lineup by a teller whose bank had been robbed.
In fact, the defendant had robbed a bank in the pastbut not
that one. Gilman noticed some differences between his client and the image
of the robber on the banks surveillance tape. "I had to find
somebody with some degree of expertise who could help me persuade a court
that this teller was making a good-faith error, but a serious one.
After hed talked to a lot of people, someone
suggested, "Why dont you try this professor, Dr. Alan Mann,
whos done some work in this field?" Gilman recalls. Mann, a
professor of anthropology at Penn and curator of the vast physical anthropology
collection at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and
Anthropology, agreed to take a look at the evidence.
With his colleague, Dr. Janet Monge, an adjunct
assistant professor and the keeper of the museums physical anthropology
collection, Mann went to the bank to check on camera angles and then took
pictures of Gilmans client at precisely those angles. "He constructed
sculptures of the head of the robber, and he was able to show in court
real physical distinctions between that guy and my client, who was sitting
in the courtroom with us," Gilman says. "The trial was successful
and my client was found not guilty because of [their testimony]."
Gilman kept in touch with the Penn anthropologists
over the years. In fact, his oldest son took one of Monges classes
at Bryn Mawr College, where she also teaches. He didnt expect, however,
that a similar confluence of events would reunite them for another criminal
casenot until he met Greg Wilburn.
Gilman had been briefed by Wilburns first
attorney that "he felt that this was the wrong guy." When he
finally met his client and reviewed the surveillance video, he agreed.
"I saw that the guy who did it looked older than Greg, and he looked
skinnier. And he looked to me like his head was shaped in a different
fashion. He also had a walk that appeared different."
But how could he build a defense around these
subjective observations? Gilman needed solid evidence, and he knew exactly
who could provide it. Mann was out of the country at the time, doing work
on Neanderthals in his summer research appointment at the University of
Bordeaux. So Gilman called up Monge and told her, "I think I have
another one." When Mann returned from France last August, he and
Monge set to work on the case, taking pictures at all angles of Wilburn
in jail, and through computer technology, superimposing those images next
to the head of the suspect in stills from the store video.