Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of violence. Among the many interconnected pieces that made up the spectacle of the Lorena Bobbitt case back in 1993, none was more important, in the end, than the panel of jurors who decided Lorena Bobbitt's fate. She now goes by her maiden name, Gallo, and notoriously cut off her husband’s penis while he slept on June 23, 1993, and then threw the severed part out the window of her car as she sped away from the scene of the crime. The exact set of events leading up to the violent act were hotly contested in court: Gallo claimed that her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, had returned home from a night of heavy drinking and violently raped her, ripping her panties in the process. Afterward, when she went to the kitchen for a glass of water, she spotted a 12-inch knife on the counter and seized it. She would later testify in court that she didn’t remember what happened after that.
Bobbitt, on the other hand, recounted several different (and contradictory) stories about what happened that night: in one version of events, he and his buddy, Robert Johnston, returned from a night out on the town, and exhausted, he collapsed into bed without saying a word to his wife. Gallo then allegedly tried to stimulate Bobbitt, but he declined sex. The next thing he knew, he was wide awake and bleeding after Gallo had lopped off his penis. In another version of events, Bobbitt admitted that he may have had sex with Gallo that night, but he claimed that it was consensual.
The jury, made up of seven women and five men, didn’t believe Bobbitt’s version of events, even after he was acquitted in November 1993 on charges of marital sexual assault. “We didn’t believe John Bobbitt,” a male juror told The New York Times the following January.
Instead, the jurors deliberated for a little over six hours before deciding that Gallo was not guilty of malicious wounding by reason of insanity, a verdict that sent shock waves through the courtroom and around the nation. Had the jurors found her guilty, Gallo could have been imprisoned for 20 years; instead, she was ordered to undergo a mental evaluation at a state hospital.
An initial jury poll, taken about three hours into deliberations, revealed that the jurors were 7 to 5 in favor of insanity; those who were in the minority believed that Gallo should be convicted of unlawful wounding, a lesser charge, but a charge nonetheless. Intriguingly, jurors who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity would not reveal whether the first jury poll was split by gender.
To get to their decision after the initial poll, the jurors re-enacted the night that Gallo cut off her husband’s penis, with one female juror playing Gallo and a blackboard diagram that they used to reconstruct the events of that night.
“We walked through it and tried to put ourselves in her shoes,” a female juror told the Times. “We had to know what she felt at each step.” The jurors traced Gallo’s steps from the bedroom to the kitchen, where she claimed to have had a sudden flood of flashbacks to her husband’s years of abuse, and then Gallo’s return to the bedroom and what she said happened there as well. The re-enactment and more deliberation led them to their conclusion: that Gallo had acted in self-defense in a moment of temporary insanity, and should be acquitted of all charges.
“This case was not about a penis,” one of Gallo’s lawyers, Lisa Kemler, said after the verdict was announced. “Everyone was so consumed with that. But that’s not what this case is really about. It was really about a life.”
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.