Lorena Bobbitt, whose marital travails have horrified and fascinated the nation, was acquitted Friday by a jury that ruled she was temporarily insane when she cut off her husband's penis.
When a court official read the verdict--not guilty by reason of insanity--a shriek of disbelief rose from the crowded courtroom. But Mrs. Bobbitt showed no emotion.
Lisa Kemler, one of Mrs. Bobbitt's lawyers, said later that the Ecuadorean-born manicurist had either not heard or not understood the verdict when it was read.
"She said, 'Is that good?' and we told her, 'Yes, it was good,' " a beaming Kemler said.
But the verdict did not mean that Mrs. Bobbitt could go free. Denying her attorneys' request that she be released on bond, Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. ordered Mrs. Bobbitt to undergo 45 days of psychiatric examinations, as required by Virginia law in an insanity verdict. She was to be taken to Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Va.
Outside the courtroom, about 50 supporters who had kept a vigil in the snow during the trial cheered when the verdict was announced.
"We were so afraid for her in the beginning. But this is a great demonstration of the legal system here in America. We are just overjoyed," said Eduardo Amaguana, an Ecuadorean who lives in Maryland.
Janna Bisutti, a close friend of Mrs. Bobbitt's, read a statement from her to abused women: "She encourages you to reach out, talk to someone today."
The verdict, reached by seven women and five men after only seven hours of deliberation, ends an eight-day trial that even Mrs. Bobbitt's attorney described as one of the most bizarre legal episodes in U.S. judicial history.
Although Mrs. Bobbitt admitted that she had used a long kitchen knife to cut off her husband's penis in the early morning hours of June 23, she and her attorneys contended that she did so in a moment of insanity resulting from years of abuse by her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt.
The abusive behavior reached a crescendo, the defense said, when a drunken John Bobbitt came home the night of June 22 and forced his wife to have sex with him.
Bobbitt's penis has since been surgically reattached.
The 26-year-old bar bouncer was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. His criminal lawyer, Gregory Murphy, said that John Bobbitt watched the verdict on television with his family.
"I would like someone to explain to his family how someone can do this and get away with it," Murphy said. "Why do they have to endure the last two weeks that left John out there defenseless and the prosecution taking the position that she was raped after he had been acquitted of that?"
John Bobbitt was found not guilty of marital assault in the same courtroom two months ago. But new evidence introduced at Lorena Bobbitt's trial led the prosecution to concede that her husband had physically and emotionally abused her many times over the course of their four-year marriage. They're now seeking a divorce.
As the painfully embarrassing and sometimes shocking details of the Bobbitts' lives were laid bare before millions of television viewers in the United States and abroad, it often seemed that it was John Bobbitt who once again was on trial.
"It's hard for anyone who watched that trial to believe that Lorena Bobbitt was not a woman who was pushed over the edge by years of abuse," said Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women.
"We are glad that the jury rejected the twisted argument that a battered woman should be locked in a prison cell while her longtime abuser gets rich on pay-TV," Gandy added.
John Bobbitt has made a number of television appearances. And shock-jock Howard Stern held a fund-raiser for him during a cable TV special.
Had she been convicted of the charge of malicious wounding, Mrs. Bobbitt faced a sentence of up to 20 years' imprisonment and deportation to Venezuela, where she was raised.
Blair Howard, the Virginia attorney who headed Mrs. Bobbitt's defense team, said that his client would now begin the difficult task of trying to put the episode behind her.
"She wants to heal now. . . . She wants to do whatever her doctors tell her to do so that she can heal and get on with her life," Howard said.
"Hopefully, if she needs help, she will get it," said Paul Ebert, the lead prosecutor in the case. He had argued that Mrs. Bobbitt was a vengeful woman who may well have been abused but nevertheless had no justification for what she did.
Ebert said that he "felt a certain amount of sympathy" for Mrs. Bobbitt. But he added that he was "concerned about the message" that her acquittal would send to other parties in domestic disputes.
"I hope this is not going to send a message that there is no deterrent. . . . When you violate the law, you have to be punished," Ebert said.
Howard rejected the notion that "there is any kind of message here," saying that Mrs. Bobbitt was acquitted because the jury realized that she had been driven over the edge by years of rape, forced sodomy and other physical and emotional abuse.
John Bobbitt, he added, proved "not to be a credible witness," despite his earlier acquittal and continuing denials of spousal abuse.
Lorena Bobbitt testified at the trial that she could not recall cutting off her husband's penis, but she did remember going to the kitchen of their Manassas-area apartment and picking up the knife used in the mutilation.
Two psychiatrists and two psychologists called by both sides in the case disagreed about whether Mrs. Bobbitt was temporarily insane. But all agreed that she was suffering from several mental disorders at the time of the offense. They also said they had no doubt that John Bobbitt had abused his wife.