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Justice in the Bones, continued

 

Lending their expertise to legal-defense work has not been a lucrative side-line for Mann and Monge. In most cases, they barely recover their expenses; on two occasions they didn’t get paid at all by the attorneys who hired them. But if another case with the merits of Wilburn’s comes along, Mann says, they will feel compelled to step forward.
    Until that opportunity presents itself, the anthropologists will continue sifting through calcified clues in their quest to learn more about our human ancestors, and as a result, more about ourselves. "To me," says Mann, "it’s a story about roots. And I think my interest is just an extension of what everybody does," he says. "Everybody wants to know where their grandparents came from, their great grand- parents. Everybody has some albums they go to and look through all those great yellowing pictures. I just take that back 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 generations.
    "Everybody wants to know what the ultimate place of their origin is and why, and what people looked like, and why people looked that way," he adds. "We’re right back to what we were talking about with the differences between Greg and the person who committed this crime."
    The result of Mann and Monge’s fascination with such details and Gilman’s impassioned defense was a victory not just for Wilburn and his family, but for Gilman’s professional colleagues as well. "It was kind of nice for our office—and for defenders’ offices everywhere—that we got some positive [publicity] out of it [to help people understand] that you’re not necessarily screwed by the system," Gilman says.
    Gilman still keeps in touch with Wilburn’s mom on a monthly basis; they developed quite a rapport, he says, traveling together on the TV news circuit. "What happened to [Wilburn] that year, God knows. It will be with him forever. But he’s got a great, supportive mom who’s aggressively on his side. So I think that’s going to help. We’re hoping."
    Now that the cameras are turned off, Gilman is quietly going about the unglamorous work of a public defender. One of his sons is a senior at Haverford College who wants to attend graduate school at Penn. The other is 15 and will probably go "somewhere brilliant and outrageously expensive," Gilman says with a sigh. "So I’m spending money I don’t have. It’s like playing Monopoly. But I’m much happier. It’s the right niche for me.
    "I’m still getting a lot of psychic income from helping individual people," he adds. "In one respect [my sixties ideals] are still going strong, because what does a criminal defense attorney do but fight against the system? He’s part of the system, but he has to fight using the rules of the system to help an individual who is being prosecuted by the system. That’s pretty sixties."
    Jessie describes Gilman’s work more effusively. "I love him. When [Greg’s friends found out] that he had a public defender, they’d say to my oldest son, ‘Oh man, the public defender’s nothing. They’re not going to help Greg.’ But Mr. Gilman … gave me my son. He gave it everything, as if he was fighting for his own child. For that I’m truly grateful." Jessie never had a chance to meet Mann or Monge, the people behind the scenes, but she also would like to thank them for helping her son.
    In response to the Gilman case, Philadelphia’s new police commissioner, John F. Timoney, announced plans last fall to provide more training to the officers who investigate sex crimes, and to improve evidence-gathering and examination procedures. But Jessie, who has filed a lawsuit against the police department, says she and Wilburn are still waiting for an official apology. "Nothing will ever give my son back the year that he lost."
    Wilburn told his mom that he also wanted an apology from the young woman who accused him. She reminded him, she says, that "the girl was victimized three times: ‘She was victimized by the person who assaulted her, she was victimized by the system, plus there’s the thought that the real person is out there ready to do that again.’"
    Jessie planned to speak with high-school counselors this fall to see if her son has enough credits to enter 12th grade and graduate. Wilburn has mentioned an interest in going into the military service after high school. "Whatever he decides to do in life," she says, "if he gives it 100 percent, he’ll be fine."
    To motivate her son, Jessie has compiled a scrapbook full of articles about his case from start to finish. "When he feels down, or feels disgusted, I tell him, ‘Take your book, go up to your room. Go through the book, know where you’ve been, realize where you are now, and thank God. You’ll forever be able to go through this book—even when you’re having your worst day—because I don’t think nothing is worse than prison.’"

 

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/27/99