Fireworks over Bobbitt verdict

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The Independent Online
IT IS not over yet. The jury's not guilty verdict by reason of insanity in the case of Virginia v Lorena Bobbitt (charged with cutting off her husband's penis) may have closed the case. But it will by no means quell the public debate, writes David Usborne from Washington.

In the courtroom, in Manassas, Virginia, there was a gasp of joy from Lorena's supporters as the verdict was read. Female supporters, many from Ecuador where Lorena, 24, was born, cheered in the street outside. Lorena was not sure what it meant. 'Is that good?' she whispered to her attorney, Lisa Kemler. 'You're free,' Ms Kemler replied. Lorena was nonetheless committed to a psychiatric hospital for observation for 45 days.

Not surprisingly, men and women in America saw the result rather differently. For many women's groups, Mrs Bobbitt has become an extraordinarily powerful symbol of the plight of battered women. Most men's organisations, on the other hand, appeared shocked by the jury's decision.

'We're glad that the jury rejected the prosecution's twisted argument that the battered woman should go to prison, while her abuser gets rich on pay TV,' commented Kim Gandy of the National Organisation for Women.

However, Tom Williamson, president of the National Coalition of Free Men, responded: 'We can mark a day on the calendar where America has fallen to a new low. This is now the condoning of taking matters, and the law, into you own hands and going to any lengths - even jungle savagery.'

On the other hand, American men in Ecuador must have been mightily relieved. A women's group in the country had threatened to castrate 100 of them if Mrs Bobbitt had been found guilty. In Lorena's home town of Bucay, hundreds of people (men and women) took to the streets on Friday night and fired shots into the air when news of the verdict came through.

Both Lorena and her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, are expected to make sure the debate stays alive. Each has been besieged by offers of TV, film and book deals. Mr Bobbitt has already booked radio appearances in the US, Canada and Europe, his agent confirmed.