French woman who killed rapist husband spared more jail time

A French woman who killed her rapist husband was spared more jail time Friday in a case that has become a rallying cause for feminists.

Valerie Bacot, who shot her husband Daniel Polette dead in 2016, was sentenced to a four-year term with three years suspended. 

But she walked free from the court in Saone-et-Loire in eastern France as she had already served a year in pre-trial detention. 

The verdict was met with thunderous applause in the courtroom, and some of Bacot’s friends and family burst into tears. 

Announcing the jury’s decision, judge Celine Therme said the court had recognised the “terror” that Bacot had endured for years. 

Prosecutors had told the court that Bacot, 40, should not go back to prison, as she was “very clearly a victim” of her tyrannical husband. 

Bacot was just 12 when Polette, who was at the time her mother’s boyfriend, first raped her.

Polette was imprisoned after the initial rape but continued to abuse her after he was released, and Bacot became pregnant when she was 17.

She was thrown out of her house by her alcoholic mother and forced to live with Polette, who later forced her into sex work. 

Bacot, who confessed to shooting 61-year-old Polette and hiding his body in a forest with the help of two of her children, published a book last month about her experiences, “Everyone Knew”.

Her case has become a feminist cause celebre in France at a time when more women are breaking their silence on sexual assault.

“Valerie Bacot should not have taken the life of the person who was terrorising her,” state prosecutor Eric Jallet told the court earlier. 

But judges should “uphold the transgression without incarcerating her again”, he said.

A visibly fatigued Bacot had burst into tears and collapsed upon hearing the prosecutor’s request, prompting an intervention of emergency personnel and a brief suspension of the hearing.

– ‘I had nobody’ –

More than 700,000 people signed a petition demanding that Bacot, who had risked life in prison, be cleared by the court after years of suffering.

She had told the court about how she had felt trapped into staying with her abuser. 

“I wanted to keep my child. I had nobody. Where could I go?” she told the court.

Polette became increasingly violent, attacking her with a hammer at one point.

“At first he would slap me, later that became kicking, then punches and then choking,” Bacot said, describing her life as an “extreme hell”.

Polette ordered her to work as a prostitute for truck drivers, using the back of a van, and gave her instructions through an earpiece she had to wear to make sure she complied with the demands of clients.

Investigators established that Polette threatened to kill her if she refused, pointing a gun at her many times.

– ‘This has to stop’ –

When he started questioning their 14-year old daughter Karline about her budding sexuality, Bacot said she decided that “this has to stop”.

In March 2016, after Polette ordered his wife to undergo yet another sexual humiliation by a client, she used the pistol that he kept in the car to kill him with a single bullet to the back of the neck as he sat in the driver’s seat.

Bacot said she wanted to make sure her daughter would not suffer the same fate that she had. “I wanted to save her,” she said. 

Bacot hid the body in a forest but in October 2017 she was arrested, and later released on bail. 

Her lawyers said ahead of the trial that “the extreme violence that she suffered for 25 years and the fear that her daughter would be next” pushed her to kill Polette.

The same lawyers, Janine Bonaggiunta and Nathalie Tomasini, had already defended Jacqueline Sauvage, a Frenchwoman who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her abusive husband.

Sauvage won a presidential pardon in 2016 after becoming a symbol for the fight to stop violence against women.

A court-ordered expert evaluation found that Bacot was “certain that she needed to commit this act to protect her children”.

Tomasini said that Friday’s verdict, while allowing Bacot to walk free, was still too harsh. 

“How can society ask Valerie Bacot for redress, when it did not know how to protect her?” she said. 

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