Saying Lorena Bobbitt does not pose a threat to herself or the community, a Prince William County judge yesterday ordered the 24-year-old manicurist released from a Virginia state mental hospital, provided she gets weekly outpatient therapy and does not leave the state without permission.
Bobbitt, who was in court for the brief proceeding, appeared a few minutes later outside the Manassas courthouse before dozens of reporters and cameras for a 10-minute news conference in English and Spanish, in which she thanked supporters and said she was eager to get on with her life out of the harsh public spotlight.
"I still have my American dream," said the buoyed, seemingly self-possessed Venezuelan immigrant, who smiled at reporters and gave no hint of the mousy, withdrawn demeanor she exhibited in January at her eight-day trial for cutting off her husband's penis.
Later, at her employer's home in Fairfax County, where her release was celebrated with a white chocolate cheesecake, Bobbitt expanded on her dream, adding that she still hopes for "a family, children, a husband -- a nice husband this time."
Ever since the morning of June 23, 1993 -- when, Bobbitt said, she severed her husband's penis with a kitchen knife because he had raped her -- the couple has been fodder for stand-up comics, feminists, columnists and armchair sociologists in the United States and abroad.
In November, John Bobbitt, 26, was acquitted of the rape charge. In January, after an emotional trial in which the grim details of the couple's bitter 4 1/2-year marriage were laid out by dozens of witnesses and broadcast nationwide, Lorena Bobbitt was found not guilty of malicious wounding by reason of temporary insanity.
She was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation at a state hospital to determine if she was a danger to anyone and what, if any, treatment she needed. Mental health professionals who examined her recommended the course of action that was imposed yesterday by Circuit Court Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr., who will review her progress at least every six months pending final disposition.
Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert yesterday called Bobbitt's lawyers' temporary-insanity strategy, which relied on voluminous testimony that she had been repeatedly abused by her husband throughout their marriage, "a fad defense."
"This feeling that abuse justifies the end is very trendy now," he said.
But Ebert, who unsuccessfully prosecuted both Bobbitts, did not object to Lorena Bobbitt's release "so long as she's monitored."
Bobbitt, who will be living with friends in Stafford County, Va., and hopes to return soon to her job at a Centreville nail salon, was asked what assurances she could give that she wouldn't commit violence a second time. But before she could answer, one of her attorneys, James M. Lowe, interjected: "I'm going to give that assurance. We're going to finish up her divorce, and then there will be no more John Bobbitt in her life." The couple's divorce is expected to become final in July.
Friends described Lorena Bobbitt as disappointed that the judge's travel restrictions -- which rule out dining in the District, for example, without court permission -- are likely to mean she cannot travel to Venezuela to see her family soon.
Both Bobbitt and Ebert said they hoped the intense publicity surrounding the case will focus attention on domestic violence. "If I can help at least one person," Bobbitt said, "then what I went through was not in vain." Asked what message the public might glean from her ordeal, she replied, "I think men have to have a little more consideration and respect for women."
For six months, the Bobbitts' stormy relationship was a national soap opera, and yesterday Bobbittmania was back in vogue. Grabbing a front-row seat in the packed courtroom was TV talkmeister Geraldo Rivera, who explained his first-ever appearance in Manassas by saying, "I like closure. This is a great yarn." His cadre of assistants -- "Geraldo commandos," one reporter called them -- wore black jackets with the word "Geraldo" and a lightning bolt across the back.
John Bobbitt was on a radio tour yesterday and unavailable to comment on his wife's release. His publicist, Paul Erickson, described him as feeling "saddened for the men of Northern Virginia, who are once again at risk. But he is glad that she is getting the help that she so desperately needs."
Both Bobbitts are said to be making movie deals. Alan Hauge, Lorena Bobbitt's publicist, said her deal could be finalized by week's end. "It's an authorized version," Hauge said, adding -- without noticeable irony -- "where she controls the screenplay and the final cut."