On trial: Husband accused of rape and the wife who sexually mutilated him

November 07, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

MANASSAS, VA — MANASSAS, Va. -- That a young manicurist grabbed a filet knife on her kitchen counter and sliced off her husband's penis was shocking enough. But when she fled with organ in hand, then tossed it from her car at an intersection -- where it was rescued by the fire department -- she turned an act of passion into a national sensation.

Lorena Bobbitt's 8-inch knife, with its bloodstained blade, and a photograph of John Wayne Bobbitt's penis on ice in a Ziploc bag will be submitted as evidence when back-to-back jury trials begin this week against John Bobbitt, a boyish ex-Marine, and his wife.

Mr. Bobbitt, 26, stands trial Monday on charges that he sexually assaulted his wife. Mrs. Bobbitt, 24, goes on trial later this month, charged with malicious wounding.

She'll plead temporary insanity as a result of Mr. Bobbitt's alleged assault. He'll claim that she consented to sex and then fabricated the assault charges to justify her act.

Mr. Bobbitt's attorney, Gregory Murphy, unsuccessfully tried moving the trial because of the intense debate "the case has inspired between men and women" in this historic town 20 miles outside Washington.

But it's too late to keep this case quiet.

Men still wince. Women still snicker, more than four months after the June 23 incident.

Maury Povich devoted his talk show Thursday to the episode. Book and movie offers continue pouring in. "Every talk show that exists" has called requesting interviews, says Paul B. Ebert, commonwealth's attorney for Prince William County. Mr. Ebert, who will try both cases, likes to point out that he has more inmates on death row than any other prosecutor in Virginia.

The trials, so lurid, so primal and so perfect for prime time, are expected to draw dozens of reporters to the courthouse. Women's groups supporting her and men's groups backing him may stage demonstrations.

"It's an attempted homicide. She left him to bleed," says Sidney Siller, founder of the National Organization for Men Inc.

Despite attempts by people to portray Mrs. Bobbitt as a feminist heroine or Mr. Bobbitt as a helpless victim, "neither the people nor the facts of their relationship are ones that folks should want to embrace," says Susan Fain, an assistant professor of justice at American University in Washington.

Ms. Fain worries that the "soap opera" atmosphere will overshadow the serious issue of domestic violence against women.

Neighbors are expected to testify that Mr. Bobbitt bullied his wife, that he was a flirt and that he couldn't hold a steady job.

Mrs. Bobbitt, an immigrant from Venezuela, supported her husband on her $325-a-week salary from The Nail Sculptor. She also admitted embezzling more than $7,000 from her employer and taking $100 from the pocket of her husband's friend that night. Shortly after the incident, she hired a Southern California entertainment company to represent her.

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