US jury clears wife who mutilated cruel husband

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AFTER A TRIAL that mesmerised television audiences throughout the US, Lorena Bobbitt was acquitted yesterday by a court in Virginia of maliciously wounding her husband, John, when she sliced off his penis in the early hours of last 23 June.

A Manassas jury ended eight hours of deliberation with a unanimous verdict that the Ecuador-born manicurist was temporarily insane when she committed the deed which brought her international fame. She has, however, been committed to a mental hospital for observation - for a maximum of 45 days, though it could be as little as 24 hours.

When the jury foreman read out the verdict, Mrs Bobbitt reacted almost impassively, turning to shake the hands of her lawyers. But on the icy street outside, a delighted crowd of 100 supporters, mostly from Latin America, cheered.

For the past two weeks, the jury of seven men and five women in the courthouse some 30 miles west of here has been treated to every squalid detail of a marriage that went wrong the moment it began in 1989, and which culminated last June when the 24-year-old Mrs Bobbitt took a 12-inch (30cm) kitchen knife to her sleeping spouse.

Last November John Bobbitt was acquitted of sexually assaulting his wife immediately before his mutilation. But much of this week's evidence of prior beatings and humiliation of his wife, which clearly tipped the scales in favour of Mrs Bobbitt, was not heard on that occasion. This time, even three psychiatrists who testified for the prosecution assumed rape had occurred.

Under Virginia law, the jury found her not guilty because of insanity - that she was seized by an 'irresistible impulse' when she went into the kitchen for a glass of water, saw the knife on the table and returned to wound her ex-Marine husband.

Short of acquittal, they had the choice between a verdict of malicious wounding, with a sentence of up to 20 years, and the lesser offence of unlawful wounding, with a maximum of five.

'This is a case about anger, revenge and retribution,' the prosecution attorney Mary Grace O'Brien argued. But the jury agreed with Lorena Bobbitt's defence lawyer, Blair Howard, that four years of brutal treatment by her husband finally drove her out of her mind.

Apart from driving a wedge into the feminist movement (what are the limits of a battered woman's right of self-defence?), the case has so transfixed the country that President Bill Clinton's trip to Europe virtually disappeared from American television screens.

And for the protagonists it is far from over. Both Bobbitts face legal fees - and in John Bobbitt's case medical bills - that run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and which the media contracts that have been lined up may only partly offset. There is also the matter of formal divorce proceedings, though these will be nothing compared to the voyeuristic spectacle of the last fortnight.

Minutes after the verdict, a statement from Mrs Bobbitt was read out, insisting that many women shared 'nightmare marriages' like hers had been. 'If the publicity of my ordeal can help one person find freedom, all of this was not in vain.'