JOED VIERA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER- Lockport, NY-Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek
Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek appears in a new documentary on John Wayne Bobbitt and Lorena Gallo to recount her prosecuting Bobbitt for attacking a woman in Wheatfield in January 2000.
The four-hour documentary, Lorena, released on Amazon Prime Television, aims to re-contextualize the story of the Bobbitt couple, who captivated the nation in June 1993 when Gallo severed her then-husband’s penis.
Gallo alleged that Bobbitt raped, sodomized and beat her over years, culminating in her attacking Bobbitt in their Manassas, Virginia home June 18, 1993, while in a fugue state. A jury later acquitted her of malicious wounding due to temporary insanity. Bobbitt was acquitted of marital rape, too.
Bobbitt, a Niagara County native, had his penis surgically reattached and quickly tried to capitalize on his newfound fame. He appeared on numerous national talk shows, starred in pornographic films and worked at a legal brothel in Nevada called the Bunny Ranch.
A "working girl" at the brothel, identified only as Desiree, met Bobbitt and the two became romantically involved, the documentary states.
Bobbitt, apparently broke at the time, convinced Desiree to drive him to Niagara Falls, where he had family, and help him secure an apartment.
Desiree supported Bobbitt for several years while working in Nevada, she told filmmakers.
In January 2000, after an argument about ownership of the apartment, Bobbitt attacked Desiree.
"John flew off the handle and beat me with just about everything that was loose in that apartment," said Desiree, who was filmed shrouded in shadow.
Desiree pressed a harassment charge against Bobbitt.
Wojtaszek, then a relatively new prosecutor with the Special Victims Unit, was assigned the case. First she reached out to authorities in Nevada, where Bobbitt was on probation for theft, and asked whether a conviction of harassment, a violation, would violate Bobbitt’s probation and subject him to prison time. They told her it would.
“I knew it was an effort worth making, given his history of domestic violence," Wojtaszek said.
Desiree took a four-hour train ride from her home in southern California for the trial. Wojtaszek picked her up from the Depew Amtrak at 3 a.m. and brought her to a hotel room for the night.
Discussing the case with her the next morning, Wojtaszek learned the abuse was far more severe than what Desiree initially reported to the police.
“Nine times out of 10, whenever I had a victim in front of me, what they told the police officer at the scene scratched the surface of what really happened,” Wojtaszek said in the documentary.
“Oftentimes, domestic violence and sexual assault victims are ashamed and embarrassed by their own choices," she told this newspaper. "They tell you enough to make sure they’re safe, but it takes a while to develop a rapport for them to tell you the magnitude of what has happened.”
In the documentary, Desiree described an even more horrific episode.
After the initial attack, Bobbitt dragged Desiree to a balcony, held her over the edge and threatened to drop her, Desiree said. He then dragged her back inside, tied her to the bed and repeatedly raped and sodomized her over the next three days.
“After three days of torture, I thought if I would play dead he would just leave me be," Desiree said.
Wojtaszek said she decided not to press more serious charges because the delay would have presented challenges for prosecutors — mainly that Desiree would have had to travel back to Niagara County for a later trial. She also said Desiree never alleged in their conversation that Bobbitt raped her.
Bobbitt’s lawyers, Wojtaszek recalled, had not expected to see the victim return for trial at all.
“The defense attorneys were shocked. They were ready to ask to have the case dismissed," Wojtaszek said.
Wojtaszek was able to secure a conviction thanks to investigators who found a witness at the apartments. A boy aged 11 or 12 years testified that he saw Bobbitt drag Desiree across the hallway.
The harassment conviction led a Nevada judge to revoke Bobbitt’s probation and incarcerate him at Lovelock Correctional Facility, according to the documentary.
"So much of domestic violence goes unreported. The fact we could hold him accountable for his actions was satisfying," Wojtaszek said.
The documentary aims to draw more attention to Bobbitt’s history of alleged rape and abuse against Gallo and other women. Many current-day commentators say the initial media coverage in 1993 focused almost entirely on Gallo’s maiming of Bobbitt, and largely ignored a more meaningful dialogue on domestic violence.
"What it really talks about is the missed dialogue," Wojtaszek said. "The dialogue was happening at the time, but it certainly wasn’t catching any wind.”