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Lorena Bobbitt Found Innocent; Jury Cites Temporary Insanity : Law: Judge places her in custody to undergo psychiatric evaluation after she severed mate's penis.

January 23, 1994|ANNE GEARAN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

MANASSAS, Va. — Lorena Bobbitt was acquitted by reason of temporary insanity Friday by jurors who agreed an "irresistible impulse" provoked by abuse compelled her to cut off her husband's penis. She was committed to a mental hospital for observation.

A supporter shrieked as the beginning of the verdict was read, while Mrs. Bobbitt stoically stood next to her attorneys. The decision ended a two-week trial that riveted television viewers who followed every salacious detail of the Bobbitts' sex lives as it unfolded in testimony on CNN and Court TV.

While the verdict was being read, Mrs. Bobbitt turned to one of her lawyers and asked: "Is that good?"

"This case was not about a penis," said Lisa Kemler, one of her lawyers. "Everyone was so consumed with that. But that's not what this case is really about. It was really about a life."

One of her closest friends read a message from Mrs. Bobbitt directed at abused women. "She encourages you to reach out, talk to someone today," Janna Bisutti said.

She said Mrs. Bobbitt also hopes to pursue the dream she had when she came to the United States in 1986--a good education, marriage and family.

John Bobbitt, who was acquitted of marital sexual assault for allegedly raping her shortly before she mutilated him, checked out of his Manassas hotel Thursday and was not at the Prince William County courthouse.

"He's not into dancing on graves," said Paul Erickson, Bobbitt's media adviser.

Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. placed Mrs. Bobbitt in custody to undergo psychiatric evaluation to determine whether she poses a danger to herself or others, as required by Virginia law.

Defense attorney James Lowe objected to the immediate custody order and asked the judge for a hearing on the issue. But Whisenant said the law gave him no choice.

Defense lawyer Blair Howard called the verdict "a great step forward for Lorena in the healing process."

The psychological observations will determine whether she needs treatment and the extent of that treatment.

"I think she will be found not dangerous to herself and others," Lowe said.

Mrs. Bobbitt was taken to Central State Hospital in Petersburg, where she will be examined by state doctors and at least one outside expert. They must report back to the judge within 45 days.

"From the start I knew my daughter was innocent. What happened was a moment of madness," Mrs. Bobbitt's father, Carlos Gallo, said from Venezuela. The Ecuador-born Lorena was raised in Venezuela.

Prosecutor Paul B. Ebert told reporters after the verdict that he has "a certain amount of sympathy for Mrs. Bobbitt, but that doesn't justify what she did."

"Hopefully, if she needs help, she will get it," Ebert said.

Ebert said he could not have pursued the case without calling John Bobbitt, 26, as a witness, and he doubted that his hesitant, sometimes contradictory testimony during the trial hurt his case.

"I can't manufacture testimony. John Bobbitt is what he is, and he testified," Ebert said.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Bobbitt smiled and talked with well-wishers as the panel of seven women and five men deliberated. Jurors had sent out questions to the judge about psychiatric reports on Mrs. Bobbitt and the judge's instructions on how to weigh evidence about her state of mind.

The jury announced its verdict after 7 1/2 hours of deliberations over two days.

Mrs. Bobbitt, 24, was charged with malicious wounding, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The jury also considered unlawful wounding, a lesser felony charge that carries no more than five years in prison. She also could have been deported. Jurors could have acquitted her outright had they concluded she acted in self-defense.

Lawyers for Mrs. Bobbitt argued that her four-year marriage to Bobbitt was a "reign of terror" in which Bobbitt sometimes beat her and sexually assaulted her. The couple separated twice but were living together at the time Bobbitt was cut. They're now seeking a divorce.

Mrs. Bobbitt said she was raped early June 23 when her husband came home from a night of drinking with a buddy. She went into the kitchen for a glass of water, saw a knife by the dim light of the refrigerator and took it into the bedroom, where she cut off Bobbitt's penis.

In recounting those events, Mrs. Bobbitt testified about what went through her mind as she saw the knife:

"I remember the first time he raped me. I remember the put-downs and insults he told me. . . . There were so many pictures in my head. I remember how he did anal sex with me and hurt me. I remember everything, everything."

Her lawyers said years of physical and sexual abuse triggered an "irresistible impulse" in Mrs. Bobbitt. They said she also was motivated by self-defense because she said Bobbitt had threatened to track her down and rape her if she left him.

Although at her husband's trial Mrs. Bobbitt was able to describe the mutilation, she testified in her own trial she couldn't remember.

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