Lorena Bobbitt goes on trial before 200 reporters

January 11, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

MANASSAS, Va. -- The radio gag show went on the air outside the courthouse before dawn, and with the sunrise came peddlers of T-shirts and boxer shorts, then reporters and video cameramen by the score. The story began unfolding once more, and all the words and pictures went out from 18 satellite trucks in the parking lot to the nation and the world:

Lorena L. Bobbitt, a 24-year-old manicurist, sliced off her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt's penis before dawn June 23.

The petite, dark-haired woman with the big, brown eyes sat for hours in court yesterday showing no emotion, moving barely TC muscle as the state began her trial on a charge of malicious wounding.

If convicted by a jury of seven women, five men, she could receive five to 20 years in prison.

She stared straight ahead as her husband, a 26-year-old former Marine, stepped to the stand as the first witness. He told the court he does not remember if he had sex with his wife before the attack. He might have, but he fell asleep. He'd been drinking, but he wasn't drunk, he said.

One of her lawyers, Lisa Kemler, told the jury that Mr. Bobbitt raped his wife that night as he had raped her before. She told the jury that "this young, petite, delicate" woman endured years of rape, beatings and verbal abuse and was driven by this treatment to emotional breakdown. In the moments after another assault, her lawyer said, she lashed out.

"She could not control the impulse to defend herself," said Ms. Kemler. "She felt she had no means of escape. . . . It was his penis from which she could not escape. A life is worth more than a penis."

This was Part II of a domestic violence case that began in a one-bedroom apartment outside the city of Manassas and has commanded the attention of the world. About 200 reporters, many of them foreign, showed up for the trial, which was covered live by the Court TV channel. The couple who married in June 1989 are now in the process of getting divorced.

In November, Mr. Bobbitt was acquitted in this same courthouse of raping his wife in the hours after he returned from a night of drinking with his buddy, Robert Johnson, who lay asleep on a couch in the living room when Ms. Bobbitt mutilated her husband.

She ran from the apartment in the darkness that morning clutching a kitchen knife and her husband's severed member. She drove off, then tossed the organ from the car. Later it was recovered by police and reattached in a 9 1/2 -hour operation.

Mr. Bobbitt told the court he is recovering well. He has visited a ranch out West. He has done some calf-roping. He has appeared on Howard Stern's pay-for-view TV show.

Some folks outside the courthouse yesterday morning even claimed he signed 50 T-shirts that were selling for $25 apiece.

"Officially signed by John Bobbitt," cried Lisa Cushing, hawking the shirts.

Near where she stood two other peddlers sold T-shirts and boxer shorts for $10, $12 and $15. They were not signed.

"It's ridiculous, really, to have it go to this proportion," said Arlene Banton of Manassas, who was selling the T-shirts and boxer shorts. Ridiculous, but also lucrative. During the first trial and in the holiday season that followed, she said she sold about 500 shirts and shorts.

Closer to the courthouse door, a crew from a Norfolk radio station was doing a remote morning-drive broadcast. Their sign read: "Slice-N-Wieners." On their table, for display, not sale, were cans of Slice soda and hot dogs.

Disc jockey Harry Del Toro recalled that six years ago the station suspended him for five days without pay for using the word "penis" on the air. Now, he says, "It's every sentence."

Paul Ebert, the state prosecutor, told the jury in his opening remarks that the evidence supporting Ms. Bobbitt's claims of abuse during the five-year marriage "is in hopeless conflict."

When Mr. Bobbitt faced questions from Blair Howard, another of Ms. Bobbitt's lawyers, he appeared unsure of his testimony. And Mr. Howard claimed that Mr. Bobbitt's testimony contradicted statements he made to police in the weeks after the attack.

The broad-shouldered man glanced at his wife once during his hour on the stand. When he was asked to point her out, he pointed, then averted his eyes.

The moment was seen by Court TV, also the world.

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