A Prince William County jury yesterday found John Wayne Bobbitt not guilty of raping his wife in the couple's Manassas apartment on the morning of June 23, an act she said provoked her to grab a kitchen knife and sever her sleeping husband's penis with a single stroke.

As the verdict was read shortly after 3 p.m., a smiling Bobbitt hugged his attorneys. His aunt, who raised him, was seated in the front row and screamed, "Oh, yes!"

Outside the courthouse a few minutes later, he said briefly, "I'm relieved it's all over. I just want to get on with my life."

Marilyn Biro, Bobbitt's aunt, then said, "I knew all along {he} was innocent."

Bobbitt's attorney, Gregory Murphy, said he found it "distressful" that Bobbitt's wife, Lorena, had become a cause celebre with some women's groups, saying he did not see her as a battered spouse.

"I look forward to the day when Lorena Bobbitt is no longer in the lexicon of the feminist movement," he said.

Lorena Bobbitt, who attended the first two days of the trial, was not in court yesterday and could not be reached for comment. Her attorney also was unavailable.

Janna Bisutti, her employer and friend, with whom she has been living, was in court but left hastily. At her home, Bisutti later said, "There will be no statement."

Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert, who prosecuted the case, said that "the fact that {Bobbitt} was acquitted doesn't mean it didn't happen." Ebert said he thought it was a "fair assumption" that the jury of nine women and three men felt that John Bobbitt had suffered enough.

Several jurors interviewed late yesterday said the jury initially split on the defendant's guilt or innocence but later voted 12 to 0 for acquittal despite some jurors' fears that such a decision might send a chilling message to abused women. Two female jurors held out longest against acquitting Bobbitt.

Some panelists felt there was not enough physical evidence to convict and were disturbed by discrepancies in Lorena Bobbitt's testimony, according to juror William Vogt, 25, of Manassas. "As far as I was concerned, the D.A. hadn't proved anything," Vogt said.

Juror Kenneth Hulse Jr., 27, of Lake Ridge, said jurors were reluctant to give details about their deliberations because Lorena Bobbitt faces trial later this month and the two cases are closely linked.

Leaders of women's groups said they found the verdict disheartening.

Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, said yesterday's verdict "discourages women and gives men a free ride in marital rape cases."

John Bobbitt was charged with marital sexual assault and could have been sentenced to 20 years in prison if convicted. Lorena Bobbitt faces a similar maximum sentence when she goes on trial in the same courthouse Nov. 29 on a charge of malicious wounding.

Ebert said the verdict in John Bobbitt's trial "should not, and will not, have any bearing" on Lorena Bobbitt's case. He said a plea bargain with her is possible, but he would not elaborate.

After severing her husband's penis, Bobbitt took it with her when she fled the apartment and then threw it out her car window into a grassy field.

Rescue workers recovered the organ in a pre-dawn search. It was reattached during 9 1/2 hours of micro-vascular surgery, and John Bobbitt is said to be recovering well.

The drama, which made international headlines from the moment it began, seemed to widen the chasm that exists between the sexes on such matters, with men wincing at the mutilation while some women said that John Bobbitt got what he deserved.

Spectators and reporters from as far away as Germany started lining up at 5 a.m. Monday at the Manassas courthouse, 30 miles outside Washington, to hear for themselves John and Lorena Bobbitt's story. A phalanx of camera crews waited outside during the three-day trial, while two women sold souvenir dismembering T-shirts and one man gave out copies of the lyrics of a ballad commemorating the cutting.

In a case that essentially came down to one person's word vs. another's, the jurors, who deliberated for four hours, apparently chose John Bobbitt's version of events. In nearly 90 minutes on the witness stand Tuesday, he denied raping his wife on June 23 or at any other time during their sometimes stormy four-year marriage.

Jurors sat through two hours of impassioned closing arguments yesterday morning before beginning deliberations. The prosecution focused on which Bobbitt was more credible, but the defense said the jury needed to decide only whether Lorena Bobbitt was lying.

"John Bobbitt has no burden to prove his side of the story," Murphy said. "An accusation does not make a crime." He said that Lorena Bobbitt's testimony was riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions and that she, in effect, cried rape because "what else can {she} say to justify what happened that night?"

He painted a portrait of Lorena Bobbitt as a jealous, frustrated wife who saw her marriage crumbling and who told police the morning of the incident that her husband "always have an orgasm and he doesn't wait for me. . . . I don't think it's fair, so I pulled back the sheets and I did it."

Murphy asked if Lorena Bobbitt's comments about not being satisfied sexually sounded like a woman who had just been raped.

But prosecutor Ebert said Lorena Bobbitt had a history of being abused. "Why did she cut his penis off? Something happened . . . that drove her over the edge," he told the jury. "If this was sheer jealousy, she'd have cut his throat. But what did she attack? . . . The very thing that wounded her."

Both sides called the amputation a heinous crime. "She shouldn't have done that," Ebert said. "But he shouldn't have done what he did."

Bobbitt, a 26-year-old former Marine and bar bouncer, testified that he and his 24-year-old manicurist wife had consensual sex "almost every day," some of which he said he slept through.

He said did not remember having intercourse with his wife on June 23 when he returned home after a night of barhopping with a friend.

"I was too exhausted," he said. "I fell back to sleep." The next thing he remembers, he said, was the searing pain of his penis being cut off.

Ebert, who before the trial acknowledged the difficulty of winning marital rape cases, tried to paint Bobbitt as an insensitive husband who "tormented" his wife and taunted her by keeping a list of women he had slept with.

Lorena Bobbitt, who came to the United States from Venezuela seven years ago and married John Bobbitt in June 1989 after the pair met at an enlisted men's club near Quantico Marine Base, testified that she resisted her husband's advances on June 23. "He pushed me and held my hands. I said no twice," she said, but her husband forced her to have intercourse, ripping off her pants.

In halting and sometimes tearful testimony, she said her husband told her that "forced sex excites him." She said she had packed her things and was preparing to move out of their apartment on June 23.

Ebert said he believed Lorena Bobbitt's story, but conceded there were inconsistencies in her testimony as well as her husband's. "Neither one of them was very sympathetic, but then again, I'm a callous old prosecutor," he said.

John Bobbitt sat emotionless as his wife testified 10 feet away. She made no eye contact with him, but he barely took his eyes off her, occasionally shaking his head no.

The couple, who had been estranged on at least three other occasions, has now filed for divorce. Lorena Bobbitt is living in Fairfax County, and John Bobbitt has moved back to Niagara Falls, N.Y., where he grew up.

Last month, a 21-year-old hotel bookkeeper from a suburb of Niagara Falls filed a paternity suit against Bobbitt, saying they had a two-month relationship last year that led to the birth of her son.

Her attorney said yesterday that she is seeking child support from Bobbitt, who could receive money for his story.

Both of the Bobbitts have entertainment advisers. Paul Erickson, who is advising John Bobbitt and sat in the front row during his trial, said yesterday that there has been "interest in everything from books to potential movie rights" and that there is no way to tell how much Bobbitt's story might be worth.

Lorena Bobbitt has given interviews to "20/20" and Vanity Fair.

Erickson denied reports that John Bobbitt is writing a book. "You saw this guy on the stand," he told reporters. "This is not somebody who's going to write his autobiography."

"Lorena can go to Hollywood," an elated Murphy said after the verdict. "We'll go to Disney World, which I understand is just down the road now."

Bobbitt left the courthouse holding hands with his aunt. They and other family members got into several cars that were led away by a police escort.

Bobbitt dined last night at a restaurant in Manassas with veteran journalist Gay Talese, who is writing about the Bobbitts for the New Yorker magazine.

Staff writers Patricia Davis, Bill Miller, Maria E. Odum, Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Mark Stencel contributed to this report.