Mutilated husband acquitted Wife's assault claim is rejected by jury

November 11, 1993|By New York Times News Service

MANASSAS, Va. -- John Wayne Bobbitt, the self-described ordinary ex-Marine who was thrust into national prominence when his wife sliced off his penis, was acquitted yesterday on the charge that he provoked the attack by raping her.

The jury of nine women and three men spent barely four hours deliberating before finding Mr. Bobbitt, 26, innocent of a charge of sexually assaulting his wife, Lorena. She had testified that he attacked her on an early June morning. He has variously said that they had consensual sex and that he does not remember if there was sex.

There is no disagreement about what followed. As he lay in bed, she went into a kitchen, got a knife, returned to the bedroom and cut off his penis.

When the verdict was announced, Mr. Bobbitt's aunt and adoptive mother, Marylyn Biro, shrieked from a row behind her son. Mr. Bobbitt jumped up and pumped his fist while several jurors smiled. Family friends looked on tearfully.

The verdict was the culmination of two days of emotional and graphic testimony in this small Civil War town, 25 miles west of Washington. But it is only one chapter in a legal story that has taken on soap opera proportions.

On late-night television, the Bobbitt case has become a punch line. But to some women's groups it symbolizes the legal system's treatment of domestic violence.

In three weeks, Mrs. Bobbitt is scheduled to be tried on charges of malicious assault by the same prosecutors who in this case used her as the star witness and portrayed her as the victim of her husband.

In the second trial, the prosecutors are expected to use Mr. Bobbitt as the main witness and to portray him as the victim in the case against his wife. Her testimony in the first trial is expected to be used against her in the second.

Interviewed after yesterday's verdict, one of the jurors said the panel initially split 6-6, and that after two hours, four more jurors switched sides and voted for acquittal.

William P. Vogt, the juror, said the jury was persuaded by Mr. Bobbitt's lawyer that the case was too circumstantial and that they could not rely on Mrs. Bobbitt's word alone.

"If someone had heard her scream, or if there had been some sort of bruising, that would have been more substantive evidence," said Mr. Vogt, a manager of a used book store. Mrs. Bobbitt, a manicurist, was born in Ecuador 24 years ago and came to the United States in 1986, three years before she married.

In a strange twist, the prosecutors' defeat yesterday will make it easier for them to bring their case against Mrs. Bobbitt, since her claim that a rape justified her attack on her husband has been weakened.

Testifying on Monday, Mrs. Bobbitt asserted that she had disfigured her husband in the heat of passion only after he had attacked her.

But she also complained to police shortly after the incident that he did not satisfy her sexually, and Mr. Bobbitt's lawyers have suggested that she cut him out of jealousy and resentment over a failed marriage.

If convicted, Mrs. Bobbitt could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years, the same sentence her husband might have faced.

Mr. Bobbitt's legal problems are not completely over. He was served with legal papers this week by a Buffalo, N.Y., woman who filed a lawsuit claiming he is the father of her baby.

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