Though, to this day, John Wayne Bobbitt maintains that he never harmed his ex-wife Lorena, the new Amazon docuseries, Lorena, includes one side of the story that news viewers in the '90s may have missed. She reportedly hid bruises under makeup and long sleeves, but her nail salon coworkers and at least one of her clients claims she saw evidence of apparent abuse. And that one Lorena Bobbitt trial witness from the nail salon may have been what saved her from going to jail.
The story everyone knows about Lorena is that she cut off her husband's penis and threw it out the window of her car on June 23, 1993. The outrageous headlines the act generated overshadowed everything he had allegedly done to bring her to that point.
If you search for articles about her trial for "malicious injury" at the time, most references to Lorena's nail salon mention one coworker who said that in a hypothetical conversation years before, Bobbitt once said she'd cut off John's penis if he cheated on her. Somehow these articles leave out the many, many other employees at The Nail and Body Sculptor in Centreville. Virginia, who said she had come to work with bruises, clearly distraught.
Then there was the pivotal testimony of Regina Keegan, who came to the salon for a manicure and eyebrow wax on June 17.
In footage of the trial, we see Keegan laughing at first about the terrible job Lorena did. "The manicure was very bad, and my eyebrows were uneven," she says on the stand.
In her interview in Lorena, Keegan says that Bobbitt's hands were trembling, and at one point when she rolled up her long sleeves (on a June day in Virginia!), she revealed bruises on her forearm. She claimed to Keegan that her husband had done it and that he had even threatened to throw her over the balcony of their apartment. It's not clear if that was part of Keegan's testimony in the trial, but she did say on the stand that she urged Lorena to leave her husband, which made her even more agitated.
"To me, she appeared terrified," Keegan told the court.
Bobbitt's defense attorneys knew that Keegan's story would back up the fact that she had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ironically and unfortunately, she could have been in a position to do more.
In the fall of 1993, John Bobbitt was on trial for raping his wife on that night, and the only testimony allowed had to pertain to events in the five days before the incident. Keegan, a busy mom who was trying to avoid all the news about "that crazy lady with the knife" and who had mistakenly thought Lorena's name was Lena, didn't see Lorena on television until his trial was almost over. She immediately called the district attorney, Paul Ebert.
"He said, 'Son of a bitch, if I had had this, I could have nailed that bastard,'" Keegan recalls.
One has to wonder: If the news had put more emphasis on what Lorena went through instead of her husband’s penis, would Keegan have recognized her earlier and been able to help? But the bright light in this frustrating story is that rather than dismiss Keegan, Ebert gave her the number of Lorena's lawyer Blair Howard — the lawyer who would be Ebert's opponent in her trial the following January.
Keegan also says in Lorena that Ebert told the state's forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Miller Ryans, to call her.
Ryans had earlier told the court he believed Bobbitt's actions to be deliberate, saying that despite showing signs of depression and stress, "She chose to amputate the penis, and as such we do not have an irresistible impulse but an impulse she did not resist."
But after Keegan's testimony, Ryans returned to the stand and quoted her. "[Keegan] gave symptoms which were compatible with post-traumatic stress disorder," he said. That change, it seems, was enough to persuade the jurors to give the verdict of not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.
This was something of a happier ending for Lorena, and yet it's still infuriating and heartbreaking. We can only hope, that given what we know, we would all reach out and embrace victims of domestic violence as Keegan says she did that day in the salon. Hopefully, by continuing to look at this story in profiles and documentaries, someone who needs to will see it and know they are not alone.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.