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Jury frees man whose wife cut off his penis

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WASHINGTON - John Bobbitt, the former Marine whose wife cut off his penis in a case that has drawn attention throughout the US and beyond, was acquitted yesterday by a Virginia jury of marital sexual assault, the crime which she says provoked her into her gory act of revenge, writes Rupert Cornwell.

After just four hours' deliberation, the three men and nine women jurors rejected the prosecution's claim that Lorena Bobbitt had been 'driven over the edge to strike out at the very thing that harmed her'. As the verdict was announced, Mr Bobbitt, 26, jumped to his feet and hugged his lawyer. 'Oh Lord, thank you,' cried his aunt sitting close by.

In her testimony this week, the Ecuador-born Mrs Bobbitt declared that her husband had returned home drunk at 3.15am on 23 June, pinned her to the bed and raped her. But the defence insisted that she had made up the story and had mutilated her husband out of anger at the breakdown of their four-year marriage.

'Two wrongs don't make a right,' declared Mr Bobbitt's lawyer yesterday. 'The first wrong is the emasculation of John Bobbitt. The second wrong is the fabrication of facts in this case.'

The focus of a cause celebre which has become grist for both sides in America's long-running debate on sexual abuse now shifts to Mrs Bobbitt, 24. She was not in court to hear the verdict, but must return on 28 November to stand trial herself for malicious wounding. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted.

Unlike Mr Bobbitt, however, she is not contesting that she did what she is accused of. Her lawyers have announced she will plead temporary insanity to explain her action in taking a filleting knife from the kitchen and cutting off her husband's penis as he lay in bed. The organ was re-attached in a 10-hour operation, and Mr Bobbitt's doctors expect him to make a full recovery.

But his problems are not over, despite lucrative television and film offers. It emerged yesterday that a woman living in Niagara Falls named Mr Bobbitt in a paternity suit claiming he was the father of her 10-month-old daughter. 'She's looking for support, and when he sells the rights to his story, he'll be able to provide it,' the woman's lawyer was reported as saying.

Mr Bobbitt was accused of sexual assault, not rape, because a rape charge applies only when a couple is living apart, or the victim has incurred severe physical injury.

(Photograph omitted)