John Wayne and Lorena Bobbitt Trials: 1993 & 1994
John Wayne and Lorena Bobbitt Trials:
1993 & 1994
Defendants: First trial: John Wayne Bobbitt; second trial: Lorena Bobbitt
Crimes Charged: First trial: marital sexual assault; second trial: malicious wounding
Chief Defense Lawyers: First trial: Gregory L. Murphy; second trial: Lisa B. Kemler
Chief Prosecutor: Both trials: Paul B. Ebert.
Judge: Both trials: Herman Whisenaut, Jr.
Place: Both trials: Manassas, Virginia
Dates of Trials: First Trial: November 8-10, 1993; second trial: January 10-22, 1994
Verdict: First trial: not guilty; second trial: not guilty
SIGNIFICANCE: These two trials involving allegations of rape and sexual mutilation captured the attention of the public. In so doing, the nature of what is deemed acceptable for broadcast media changed forever.
When Lorena Bobbitt picked up a 12-inch fillet knife in her kitchen at 5 a.m. on June 23, 1993, she presumably never gave a thought to the gift she was about to bestow on the nation's editors and news anchors: the opportunity to put the unmentionable word "penis" in front-page headlines and on network news by the dinner hour. Was it on her mind to focus world attention on the issue of violence against women? Moments later, with one stroke of the knife, she accomplished both results by severing her slumbering husband from his most cherished possession. This act produced two courtroom dramas.
Lorena and John Bobbitt had met, when she was 19 and he was 21, at a club for enlisted men near the Quantico, Virginia, Marine Corps base, where he was a lance corporal. Raised in Venezuela, she was, at the time they met, a manicurist in Manassas, Virginia. She was slender, 5′2″, attractive, with long dark brown hair. She held a U.S. immigration visa that was soon to expire.
John was inexperienced with women. Lorena's strict upbringing had included chaperones tagging along on dates, no premarital sex, and no tolerance of divorce or abortion. "She was pretty," said John later. "She had a cute accent. We thought we were in love. I didn't want her to leave." They were married on June 18, 1989.
Trouble soon began. John drank. He spent money extravagantly. A month after the wedding, when she criticized his erratic driving, he struck her. When they argued over a television program, he broke off the rooftop antenna, knocked her down with his car, and drove off. In another fight, she locked herself in the bathroom. He unscrewed the doorknob. When she dialed 911, he ripped out the phone. Neighbors noted her recurring bruises. Short of cash, Lorena stole money from her employer and stole dresses from Nordstrom's department store.
Upon completing his Marine enlistment, John began working as a bouncer at a Manassas night club. Over their four-year marriage, interrupted by long separations in 1991 and again in 1992, both Bobbitts called the police to break up their disputes several times. In mid-June 1993, Lorena requested a restraining order against her husband. Two days later, at 3 a.m., he came home drunk.
A house guest, John's buddy Robert Johnston, was asleep in the next room. At about 5 a.m., he felt a kick. He looked up. John Bobbitt, naked, a bloody sheet clutched to his groin, calmly asked Robert to get him to the emergency room. Lorena was not in the house. On the way to the hospital, John said, "They better be able to make me a new penis."
Urologist Dr. James T. Sehn examined Bobbitt, explaining to him that, unless the missing penis was found, he would have to sew the stump closed. With Bobbitt on a gurney ready for surgery, Dr. Sehn pushed him toward the operating room.
At that moment the police arrived at the hospital with the missing organ, packed in ice. They had received a call from Lorena Bobbitt, who told them her husband's penis could be retrieved from a field next to the neighborhood 7-11 convenience store. Dr. Sehn immediately called Dr. David E. Berman, a skilled microsurgeon, and in a nine-hour procedure, they reattached John Bobbitt's penis.
Lorena Bobbitt Is Charged
Lorena Bobbitt was charged with malicious wounding. Overnight, the amputation, the reattachment, the couple's record of domestic violence, and Lorena's statement, saying she was raped by her drunken husband at 3 a.m., which was the last straw for her, spread like wildfire throughout the world. Late night talk show hosts David Letterman and Jay Leno began quipping Bobbitt jokes night after night.
With Lorena indicted and women's voices rising, Attorney Paul B. Ebert of Prince William County Commonwealth, Virginia, examined Lorena's police statement. Six weeks later, he indicted John Bobbitt on a charge of marital sexual assault.
By this time, the outraged members of the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) had set up a support hotline. Dr. Sehn's wife was harassed by women who were angry that her husband's surgery had succeeded. "This is a tragedy, not a comedy," said Phyllis D. Barkhurst of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "It is deeply revealing that it has taken the mutilation of a man to attract attention to the abuse of women," said a New York Times Op-Ed article.
Both Bobbitts quickly hired agents to handle book and movie offers and public appearances. Almost immediately, Lorena's agents got her on ABC's 20/20, publicand in Vanity Fair magazine. immediately, Both Bobbitts filed for divorce.
John Bobbitt Tried for
On Monday, November 8, 1993, nine women and three men sat in the jury box in the Prince William County Circuit Court to hear John Wayne Bobbitt tried for malicious assault. Rape was not charged because under Virginia law it applies only to couples living apart or in cases where the victim suffers serious physical injury. Reporters from around the world packed the courtroom. Outside, pushing their way through the hundreds of spectators and reporters who failed to find room inside, hawkers sold nine hundred T-shirts, at $10 each, with the inscription, "Manassas, Va.—A cut above the rest."
On the witness stand, Lorena Bobbitt tearfully described how her husband had come home drunk, woke her, choked her, and raped her for the second time in two days. "I was crying," she testified. "I said, 'You • hurt me again and again and again. How much do I have to put up with?'"
She said Bobbitt then fell asleep. She went to the kitchen to get a drink of water. "The refrigerator door was open," she testified, "and that was the only light. And I turned and saw the knife. I took it. I went to the bedroom. I pulled the sheets off, and I cut him." She said she then ran out, threw the knife into a garbage can, jumped into her car, and drove away. When she realized she still held the penis in her hand, she tossed it into the vacant field next to the convenience store.
Bobbitt took the stand, telling the jury, "I felt a pull, a jerk that hurt real bad and I sprang up—like, silent pain. I grabbed my groin area and held myself." John Bobbitt could not recall whether he had had sex that night. A police detective testified that at the hospital John Bobbitt told him, "if he had sex with his wife, then he may have done it while he was asleep, that he did those things very often."
Stephen Roque, a Prince William County court counselor, told the court that two days before the attack, Lorena Bobbitt had complained of physical and sexual abuse by her husband and had asked about court protection. Told she would have to appear before a judge, she said she would return later in the week.
Called back to the stand, Lorena Bobbitt explained that five days before the attack, her husband had raped her while calling out the names of other women.
In his summation, Prosecutor Ebert said, "You might say these two people deserve each other."
After deliberating for only four hours, the jury found John Bobbitt not guilty. Afterward, a juror said the jury had agreed with John's lawyer, Gregory L. Murphy. The case was too circumstantial, and it could not rely solely on Lorena Bobbitt's word. "If someone had heard her scream," continued the juror, "or if there had been some sort of bruising, that would have made more substantive evidence."
It would be two months before Lorena's trial would begin. Meanwhile, appetites for the sensational were being well fed. Shock jock Howard Stern put John Bobbitt on a New Year's Eve telethon to raise money to defray $250,000 of his legal and medical fees. People magazine made the Bobbitts its cover story and devoted five full pages of the same issue to the Bobbitts. Late night talk show hosts Letterman and Leno vied to see who could come up with the most jokes. Feminist author Katie Roiphe wrote in The New York Times:
Lorena Bobbitt has become a symbol of female rage.… With that primal cut, she exposed the raw hostility between the sexes that is usually clothed in everyday social interaction.… We need to understand the part of the women's movement that yearns for a Lorena Bobbitt.
Lorena Bobbitt's Trial Begins
The trial of Lorena Bobbitt on the felony charge of maliciously wounding her husband opened January 10, 1994. Autographed John Bobbitt T-shirts were selling for $25, all proceeds going to the defense fund. A restaurant offered a Bobbitt Special—a hot dog with French "cut" fries. Downtown Manassas was a mass of eager spectators and throbbing diesels powering satellite trucks.
Seven women and five men occupied the jury box. Prosecutor Ebert's opening statement asserted that, temperamental and demanding, Lorena Bobbitt had acted out of pique.
Defense Attorney Lisa B. Kemler described her client as "a battered woman in the classic sense" who acted in self-defense out of "irresistible impulse," and who was suffering from mental disorders. "What we have," said Kemler, "is Lorena Bobbitt's life juxtaposed against John Wayne Bobbitt's penis. In her mind, it was his penis from which she could not escape. At the end of this case, you will come to one conclusion. And that is that a life is more valuable than a penis."
On the stand, Bobbitt denied he had raped his wife just before the attack. She, he said, had tried to initiate sex when he returned from drinking with a friend, but he was triedtoo tired toinitiateand fell asleep. whenThen, hereturnedhe testified, from"I was bleeding. I hurt real bad. I thought she just, you know, grabbed me, just pulled it out of my body."
Defense witnesses testified to John's boasting that he enjoyed brutal sex with women, repeatedly hit his wife, pulled her hair, and threw her against the wall.
Lorena's defense traced the disintegration of the Bobbitts's marriage, the increasing violence, and John Bobbitt's use of what she called "Marine Corps torture techniques," which included twisting her leg so severely that she was hospitalized. She finally acted, said James Lose, one of her defense lawyers, on "irresistible impulse," a form of temporary insanity.
In cross-examination, Lorena testified that she did not remember severing John's penis. Only when she found it in her hand while driving away, she said, did she realize what she had done. But Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Mary Grace O'Brien retorted by quoting Lorena's police statement. "He always have orgasm and he doesn't wait for me to have orgasm," it said. "He's selfish. I don't think it's fair, so I pulled back the sheets then and I did it."
Attorney O'Brien then asked Lorena, "You're saying under oath that you don't remember cutting him?"
"No," said Lorena. "That's what I assumed happened."
A defense psychiatrist testified that Lorena suffered a "brief reactive Psychosis" under which she attacked "the instrument that was the weapon of her torture." A prosecution psychiatrist rebutted by declaring, "she had a choice to make. She chose to amputate that penis, and as such we do not have an irresistible impulse but an impulse she did not resist."
After six hours of deliberation, the jury concluded that Lorena Bobbitt was temporarily insane when she cut off her husband's penis. It found her not guilty on all criminal charges. Said a male member of the jury, "We didn't believe John Bobbitt."
Under state law, Lorena underwent five weeks of psychiatric examination in a mental hospital and was released.
John Bobbitt's Troubles Continue
The press announced that John Bobbitt was booked on a worldwide media tour billed as "Love Hurts." Within months, he was engaged to marry a former topless dancer, Kristina Elliott. But on May 6, 1994, in Las Vegas, Elliott had Bobbitt arrested for assault, asserting that he had thrown her against a wall. He pleaded not guilty. Out on bail and awaiting trial, he announced complete recovery from his celebrated surgery. "Its like it was before," he said. "There's no problem."
June found Bobbitt in court again in a paternity suit. He pleaded guilty and arranged a settlement with Beatrice L. Williams of Niagara Falls, New York. He said he was "thrilled, excited and blessed" to be the father of a 17-month-old son. Two months later, he was convicted of a misdemeanor against Kristina Elliott, his former fiancee. Observing that Bobbitt had "an attitude problem," Las Vegas Justice of the Peace William Jansen sentenced him to 60 days in jail, then suspended 45 of the days. "Your attitude problem is caused by your drinking," said the judge. He ordered therapy and membership in Alcoholics Anonymous, as John Wayne Bobbitt was led from the courtroom to jail.
In 1994 John Bobbitt starred in an X-rated movie with an all-too predictable title: "John Wayne Bobbitt Uncut."
Releasing Lorena Bobbitt after psychiatric evaluation in a mental health facility, Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Herman A. Whisenant, Jr., ordered her to undergo outpatient treatment weekly and not to leave Virginia without permission.
Both Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt continue to occasionally popup in the news. In 1996, John was ordained as a minister in the Universal Life Church. His conversion to religion did not last very long. A few years later, he took a job as a greeter at a Nevada brothel. Lorena now works as a manicurist in Virginia. In 1997, she was arrested and charged with assault on her mother. She was later acquitted of those charges.
—Bernard Ryan, Jr.
Suggestion for Further Reading
Hewit, Bill and Rochelle Jones. "Slice of Life." People Weekly (August 30, 1993): 57-8.
Margolick, David. "Wife Says She Does Not Recall Cutting." New, York Times (January 15, 1994): Bl.
—. "Witness Says Lorena Bobbitt Earlier Threatened to Maim Husband." New York Times (January 20, 1994): Bl.
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