French woman convicted of killing abusive husband, set free

Valerie Bacot claims her husband, her former stepfather, first raped her when she was 12 and forced her into prostitution.

Valerie Bacot, centre, leaves Chalon-sur-Saone Courthouse, flanked by relatives and lawyers at the end of her trial on charges of murdering her stepfather turned husband, who she claimed abused her since she was 12 [Jeff Pachoud/AFP]

A French mother of four was sentenced to one year in prison on Friday for killing her husband after decades of sexual, physical and psychological abuse starting when she was an adolescent. The verdict allows her to walk free, as she has already served time in preventive detention.

The case had drawn broad attention and support for the defendant amid a national reckoning with long-held taboos around domestic abuse.

Valerie Bacot, 40, has admitted to shooting Daniel Polette dead in 2016. Polette was her stepfather, who later married her and forced her into prostitution.

A jury in Chalon-sur-Saone, central France, found Bacot guilty of the murder. She was sentenced to one year in prison and a three-year suspended sentence.

The prosecutor had earlier requested that Bacot should not be sent to prison, saying he did not consider her a danger to society.

Her story has moved campaigners against domestic violence, with more than 710,000 signing a petition for her release.

“I had to put an end to it,” Bacot wrote in a book published last month called Everybody Knew, adding: “I was afraid, all the time.”

The trial opened on Monday.

Rape, abuse, prostitution

Bacot was 12 when Polette, who was 25 years her senior, raped her for the first time. He was sent to prison, but after his release returned and resumed the serial rapes.

“He told my mother that he wouldn’t start again. But he did,” she told the court.

At 17, Bacot became pregnant, was thrown out of the house by her alcoholic mother, and went to live with Polette.

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

Polette, also a heavy drinker, 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,” she said, describing her life as an “extreme hell”.

He did not allow her to work or use contraception. She had three other children.

Polette ordered her to work as a prostitute for truck drivers, using the back of a Peugeot people carrier, and gave her instructions through an earpiece he forced her to wear to make sure she complied with the demands of clients whom he charged between 20-50 euros ($24 – $59).

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

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

In March 2016, after Polette ordered Bacot 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 while he was 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.

The circumstances of the shooting rule out any possible claim of legitimate self-defence.

Bacot hid Polette’s body in a forest with the help of two of her four children. In October 2017 she was arrested, confessed and one year later released on bail.

She made no comment as she arrived at the court on Monday, a slight figure with a ponytail and a black jacket who appeared intimidated by the crowd of reporters.

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 French woman who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her abusive husband but won a presidential pardon in 2016 after becoming a symbol for the fight against violence directed at women.

“These women who are victims of violence have no protection. The judiciary is still too slow, not reactive enough and too lenient towards the perpetrators who can continue to exercise their violent power,” Bonaggiunta told the AFP news agency.

“This is precisely what can push a desperate woman to kill in order to survive,” she said.

Bacot was “certain that she needed to commit this act to protect her children”, a court evaluation found.

Family members came to the court to say they do not regret Polette’s death. His brother and sisters described him as a “monster”.

“The person I thank the most in the world is Valerie, because she killed him. She did what I should have done for a long time,” said Polette’s sister, 59. She said he raped her when she was 12.

Source: News Agencies