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Justice in the Bones, continued


In July 1998,
Glenn Gilman took over Wilburn’s 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 it’s 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 Dreyfuss’s 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 Schapp—a non-politician’s politician—had attracted a lot of young people to get into state government and make things better."
   
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 couldn’t make any money, I was having fun and I really felt excited about helping individual people."
   
Gilman’s 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 didn’t like that all that much," he says quietly. "After five years of it, I just didn’t 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.
   
Gilman’s 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 frequently—often when clients, who’ve 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 won’t be in court this particular week), Gilman tells how his own work led him to collaborate—twice—with a couple of anthropologists from his alma mater:

In 1984, one of Gilman’s 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 past—but not that one. Gilman noticed some differences between his client and the image of the robber on the bank’s 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 he’d talked to a lot of people, someone suggested, "Why don’t you try this professor, Dr. Alan Mann, who’s 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 museum’s physical anthropology collection, Mann went to the bank to check on camera angles and then took pictures of Gilman’s 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 Monge’s classes at Bryn Mawr College, where she also teaches. He didn’t expect, however, that a similar confluence of events would reunite them for another criminal case—not until he met Greg Wilburn.
   
Gilman had been briefed by Wilburn’s 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.

 

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/27/99