CHALON-SUR-SAONE, France (AP) — A French mother of four was sentenced to one year in prison 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 didn’t consider her a danger to society.
The trial showed the degree of control and influence Polette — 25 years Bacot’s senior — had over her.
“Yes, I killed him but if I had not done it, my children would have,” Bacot said.
Polette arrived in Bacot’s life in 1992 as her mother’s companion. A few months later, she said, the sexual abuse started. She was 12 when he began raping her, Bacot said.
Polette’s sisters reached out to a social worker and he was arrested in 1995 and convicted of sexual assaults, spending two years in prison.
Afterward, Polette returned to the family home and started abusing Bacot 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.
Her mother threw her out of the house and she started living with Polette, whom she described as having total control over her life.
He did not allow her to work or use contraception. She had three other children.
“He was beating me, slaps then punches, he throttled me. He was beating and then things were going better,” she said, adding he also threatened her with a handgun.
In 2002, he forced her into prostitution, still controlling all of her actions.
In March 2016, following a violent prostitution-related situation, she shot Polette with the gun. Her children helped her bury the body, an act for which they were given suspended prison sentences.
Bacot was arrested by police the following year and imprisoned, before being released under judicial supervision in 2018 pending trial.
The psychologist who examined her said the protection of her children was key in Bacot’s reaction. In 2016, she feared Polette would assault her 14-year old daughter and force her into prostitution.
A petition in favor of Bacot has gathered over 710,000 signatures.
Family members came to the court to say they don’t 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.
Dr. Denis Prieur, a psychiatrist, said that at the time of the domestic abuse, Bacot no longer had free will. “She was not able to turn to the law (for assistance) because her husband was always there.”
Now, “she has become somebody” and is not “a thing” anymore, he said.
Bacot’s case echoes that of another French woman, Jacqueline Sauvage, who was convicted of shooting and killing her allegedly violent husband. Sauvage was granted a presidential pardon in 2016, allowing her to get out of prison.
Sauvage had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for fatally shooting her husband three times in the back with a hunting rifle in 2012. During the trial, she said her husband had beaten her for 47 years. The couple’s adult daughters also said he had abused them.
The Associated Press doesn’t typically name victims of extremely severe abuse, but Bacot — like Sauvage — has told her story publicly.