It sounds like something out of a slasher flick: In July 2011, 50-year-old Catherine Kieu of Garden Grove, California drugged her husband’s tofu with Ambien, a sleeping pill. The two were married in December 2009, but in March of 2011, he filed for divorce. The two continued to live together, however, and on July 11, the couple had a fight about a future house guest. After drugging her husband, Kieu waited until he was asleep before tying him up, cutting off his penis with a kitchen knife, and throwing it into the garbage disposal. If this case sounds familiar, it’s because something remarkably similar happened almost 30 years ago when Lorena Bobbitt, a Virginia woman, cut off her husband’s penis while he was drunk, and drove away, throwing the member into a field as she drove.
Though the crimes are remarkably similar, the rest of their stories are not.
Lorena Bobbitt’s case went on to become one of the trials of the decade, if not the century. The 22-year-old claimed she had been physically and emotionally abused throughout their marriage, and that on the night she committed the deed, her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, had raped her. After discarding the penis, Bobbitt realized the gravity of what she had done and called 911. Paramedics responded to the scene, and surgeons were able to reattach the penis. The public was deeply divided about the trial, with some outraged at the act of brutality and others highly supportive of the woman they believed had stood up for herself against domestic abuse. Her lawyer argued that she suffered from temporary insanity, mainly stemming from her experience with abuse. He said, “In her mind, it was his penis from which she could not escape which caused her the most pain. The most fear. The most humiliation.” Bobbitt was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity, a verdict that was hailed as a victory by many activists who work to end domestic abuse. She went on to become an advocate for other women who suffer from domestic abuse, starting her website Lorena’s Red Wagon.
Catherine Kieu, on the other hand, was found guilty of felony torture, aggravated mayhem, and use of a knife. Although her lawyer argued that she suffered from mental health issues, including depression, in late June 2013, she was sentenced to life in prison, withpossibility for parole in seven years.
So what is the difference between the two cases? Why was one woman acquitted and the other sentenced to prison for seemingly the same crime? According to Jeremy Ross of slideshare.net, there are two principal differences. One is that Kieu’s crime was clearly premeditated while Bobbitt’s was not. After all, Kieu drugged and tied up her husband before committing the deed. Bobbitt acted impulsively while her husband was drunk. The second difference is that Bobbitt was clearly emotionally and physically abused while Kieu was not. Her act of revenge was based not on being raped or beaten, but on a petty argument. The two cases are an interesting lesson in legal precedent. While the same crime does sometimes merit the same punishment, often the circumstances surrounding the crime have more bearing on the outcome of a trial.
And in case you’re wondering what happened to the two husbands… Let’s just say, Ms. Kieu’s spouse will never be the same again. John Wayne Bobbitt, however, went on to have a brief, but successful, career in the porn industry.
About the Author:
Michael D. Leader is a criminal lawyer with Fort Lauderdale law firm Leader & Leader P.A. Mr. Leader offers experience as a former prosecutor coupled with in-depth experience as a criminal defense attorney handling all criminal charges, including serious felonies and white collar crimes in both state and federal court. He is recognized by his peers for his courtroom ability and commitment to ethics and has received numerous honors, including an AV Preeminent rating from Martindale-Hubbell.