LAWRENCEVILLE - The national spotlight never shined so brightly on Gwinnett County as it did in 2005, when people everywhere were intrigued by local police investigations, arrests and the bizarre acts of a few colorful residents.
A runaway bride, an alleged courthouse shooter and a prominent dentist accused of two slayings were fodder for international court television programs and neighborhood water cooler speculation. Other cases had a more limited regional impact, but still piqued the interest of thousands of county residents.
Here's a look at the issues that sparked the most interest on the police and courts beat last year:
1) Cold feet
Jennifer Wilbanks touched off a frantic three-day search when she told her fiance she was going for a jog on April 26 and then disappeared. Police later learned Wilbanks had traveled by bus to Albuquerque, N.M. Wilbanks called her fiance collect from a pay phone three days later. Wilbanks initially claimed to have been abducted. Later, she recanted the tale, admitting she cracked under the pressure of planning her wedding.
2) National manhunt ends in Duluth
Rape suspect Brian Nichols was in the midst of a trial at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta when he allegedly overpowered a deputy, shot a Superior Court Judge and gunned down a court reporter. He then allegedly ran outside and shot a deputy and later, a U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement Officer.
While fleeing from police, Nichols allegedly held 26-year-old widow Ashley Smith hostage at Bridgewater Apartments off Satellite Boulevard. During the seven-hour ordeal, Smith earned his trust and convinced him to let her leave. Nichols then surrendered peacefully to police.
3) Taser protests, lawsuits
The deaths of two inmates who struggled with deputies and were stunned with a Taser at the Gwinnett County Detention Center prompted their families to file lawsuits and human rights coalitions to organize protests this year. Frederick Jerome Williams, 31, died on May 27, 2004, and Ray Charles Austin died on Sept. 24, 2003. The deaths fueled a local and national controversy over law enforcement agencies' growing use of Tasers.
4) Deja vu
Murder charges pending against prominent Dacula dentist Dr. Barton Corbin in two counties made him a frequent courtroom visitor for pretrial hearings and motions. His wife, 33-year-old Jennifer Corbin, was found dead of a single gunshot wound to the head in December 2004.
After investigators began probing Corbin's past, they discovered a former college girlfriend, Dorothy "Dolly" Hearn had died the same way under suspicious circumstances in Augusta in 1990. Police have charged Corbin with murder, alleging he staged both scenes to look like suicides.
5) Harris avoids death penalty
Wesley Harris was sentenced to life in prison without parole instead of the death penalty in November for kidnapping and fatally shooting 22-year-old Whitney Land and her 2-year-old daughter, Jordan, on Nov. 8, 1999.
The emotional trial lasted two months from the start of jury selection on Sept. 8 until the split 10-2 verdict was rendered. The judge was forced to issue the life sentence in accordance with Georgia law, which states there must be a unanimous jury vote to secure the death sentence.
6) Postman shot by desperate man
William Crutchfield, 60, shot his neighborhood postal carrier in a bid to go to prison and avoid his mounting medical debt on June 29.
Earl Lazenby, 52, was seriously injured after being shot five to seven times in the driveway of Crutchfield's Snellville home. Crutchfield pleaded guilty in September to attempted murder of a federal employee and other charges.
Gwinnett County police arrested four suspects in June for allegedly inflating a home appraisal in Atlanta to steal from a bank, becoming the first law enforcement agency to use Georgia's new Residential Mortgage Fraud Act. The suspects were arrested at a residential closing at the office of a Snellville attorney.
The new law enacted this year is the first legislation dealing with mortgage fraud in the country. It imposes sentences of one to 10 years in prison and up to a $1,000 fine upon a first conviction.
8) Rough landing
A 22-year-old Lawrenceville man was arrested in October and charged with stealing a $7 million charter jet and abandoning it at Gwinnett County Airport-Briscoe Field, according to authorities.
Daniel Andrew Wolcott allegedly boosted a jet from the St. Augustine/St. Johns County Airport in Florida. He then met five of his friends in Lawrenceville and took them for a brief joy ride. He remains in jail facing state charges in Gwinnett and Florida.
9) Jail health care deemed sickly
The death of a cancer patient at the Gwinnett County Detention Center prompted numerous complaints by other inmates about substandard health care. The allegations painted a disturbing portrait of patient neglect and staff indifference by the county's contracted medical provider at the jail, Prison Health Services.
Harriett Washington, 43, had leukemia. While she was incarcerated, there was only one documented medical complaint in her file for knee pain. However, her two cellmates claimed Washington begged repeatedly to be taken to the hospital before she died. The inmates said PHS staff members rebuffed Washington's requests and sent her back to the cell without treating her.
10) Fired officer's discrimination claim upheld
A racial discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Lilburn Police Department was upheld in September.
Sgt. Jorge Portalatin, who is Puerto Rican, claimed he was passed over for a promotion although he was better qualified than the selectee, who was not Hispanic. Portalatin also claimed the department fired him in retaliation for speaking out about discrimination.
The EEOC is still investigating two other employee complaints against the Lilburn Police Department.