Justice

Suspended jail term for French woman who killed abusive husband

Valérie Bacot entering the courthouse on Friday, 25 June, 2021
Valérie Bacot entering the courthouse on Friday, 25 June, 2021 © JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

A French woman walked free from court on Friday after her four year sentence for murdering her violent stepfather-cum-husband was suspended. After a five day trial, Valérie Bacot's lawyer hailed the decision, saying justice had been served.

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Applause and cheers could be heard from a group of well-wishers waiting to congratulate Valérie Bacot as she left the courthouse in Chalon-sur-Saône (Saône-et-Loire) in central France on Friday.

This came after the announcement that three years of Bacot's four-year term were suspended as she had already served one year in pre-trial detention.

"I would like to thank the court and thank everyone for all the support I've received," she told the press after the fifth day of trial. "A new battle begins now for all the other women, for all the other cases of mistreatment."

Her lawyer Nathalie Tomasini, said she was "very satisfied"  with the ruling. "It was extremely moving. It is the result of an enormous amount of work."

Bacot admitted to shooting Daniel Polette in 2016, who had begun raping her aged 12.

Polette, who was 25 years older than Bacot, exerted total control over the young woman, which was revealed during the trial.

“Yes, I killed him but if I had not done it, my children would have,” Bacot said.

Although she ran the risk of a life term in jail, the state prosecutor had requested that Bacot should not be sent to prison, saying he didn't consider her a danger to society.

A cycle of violence

Bacot’s mother began seeing Polette in 1992, when Bacot was 12. Thus began the cycle of abuse, beginning with rape on a regular basis, Bacot told the court.

Her sisters tried to help by alerting a social worker. He was arrested in 1995 and convicted of sexual assault, spending two years in prison.

He returned to her mother’s home and started the abuse all over again.

“When he came back, he said he would leave me alone. My mother had forgiven him. But it started again. Following a rape I got pregnant,” Bacot said. She was 17 at the time. 

She started living with her rapist after her mother threw Bacot out of the house. She said he totally controlled her life after that, preventing her from using birth control. She had three other children by him.

“He was beating me, slaps then punches, he throttled me. He was beating and then things were going better,” she said. He also threatened her with a handgun. 

When she was 22, he forced her into prostitution, an ordeal she describes in a book published last month called "Everybody Knew”.

Protecting her children

Fourteen years after being forced to prostitute herself, she shot and killed Polette in March 2016, with his own gun following a violent prostitution-related situation.

Her children helped her bury the body. They were given suspended prison sentences. 

Bacot was arrested in 2017 and imprisoned before her release under judicial supervision in 2018 pending trial. 

The psychologist who examined her said her actions were determined by her need to protect her children. In 2016, she feared Polette would continue the cycle and rape her 14-year old daughter and force her into prostitution.

Polette’s family members came to court to say that they don’t regret the fact that Polette is dead. His brother and sisters called him a “monster.”

“The person I thank the most in the world is Valérie, because she killed him. She did what I should have done a long time ago,” said Polette’s sister, 59.

She said he raped her when she was 12. 

Bacot’s case drew widespread criticism of the French system for not protecting her when she was a minor, and failing her again when Polette got out of prison to return to his abuse. More than 710,000 signatures were gathered on a petition in favor of Bacot.  

Her lack of free will was incredibly important in the case, said Dr Denis Prieur, a psychiatrist.

“She was not able to turn to the law (for assistance) because her husband was always there,” he said.

Bacot’s case is similar to Jacqueline Sauvage, another French woman who was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for shooting and killing her allegedly violent husband. She said he had beaten her for 47 years, and her daughters testified that they were abused too.

Sauvage was granted a presidential pardon in 2016, gaining her freedom.

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