Bobbitts: Temporary Insanity

ALTHOUGH JOHN Wayne Bobbitt is the spouse whose most private part was sliced off with a kitchen knife, a Manassas, Va., jury found the woman who did the butchery the more sympathetic victim of this hellish marriage. Late last week, after deliberating for less than eight hours, the panel delivered its verdict to a pin-drop-quiet courtroom. Lorena Bobbitt, it decided, was not guilty of "malicious wounding"--by reason of temporary insanity. She was whisked away immediately to Central State Hospital for 45 days of psychiatric observation. If the state's doctors find she's a threat to herself or society, she could be kept longer.

The jury apparently was convinced by testimony from both the defense and the prosecution that Lorena was a classic case of a battered wife. Her years of abuse, the defense argued, triggered an "irresistible impulse" to--literally--dismember her husband in a moment of temporary insanity.

For the jury, the decisive moment may have come when Lorena sobbed, "I felt like my vagina was ripping up," during one of the frequent times she said her husband forced her to have sex--a charge he has repeatedly denied. (In November another Manassas jury acquitted him of raping his wife on the night she cut him.) For defense attorney James Lowe, the high point was catching John Bobbitt in what he saw as a string of outrageous lies. For John, who watched the last day of the trial on TV, the verdict had to be an enormous letdown. But for the rest of us, there is considerable joy in the prospect that the word "penis" can now once again be reserved for special occasions.