A French woman who killed her rapist husband was released from prison on Friday (June 25th) in a case that sparked a feminist rally.
Valerie Bacot, who shot Daniel Polet’s husband in 2016, was sentenced to four years in prison with a three-year suspension.
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But he was released on bail in Saone-et-Loire in eastern France after serving a year in pre-trial detention.
The verdict was met with thunderous applause in the courtroom, and some of Bacot’s friends and family erupted.
Announcing the jury’s decision, Judge Celine Therme said the court recognized the “terror” that Bakot suffered for years.
Prosecutors told the court that Bacott, 40, should not return to prison as she was “clearly a victim” of her tyrannical husband.
Bacott was just 12 years old when Poleti, then her mother’s friend, raped her for the first time.
Polette was jailed after the initial rape, but continued to abuse her after her release, and Bacot became pregnant when she was 17 years old.
She was evicted from her home 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 Polet and hiding his body in a forest with the help of her two children, published a book last month about her experiences, Everyone Knew.
Her case has become a feminist celebrity cause in France at a time when more women are breaking their silence about sexual assault.
“Valerie Bacot should not have taken the life of the person who terrorized her,” prosecutor Eric Jallet told the court earlier.
However, judges must “uphold the offense without imprisoning her again,” he said.
A visibly tired Bacchus burst into tears and collapsed when he heard the prosecutor’s request, prompting emergency staff to intervene and briefly suspend the hearing.
“I had no one”
More than 700,000 people have signed a petition seeking the release of Bacott, who had risked his life in prison after years of suffering.
She told the court about how she felt trapped in staying with her abuser.
“I wanted to keep my child. I had no one. Where could I go?” he told the court.
Polette became more and more violent, attacking a spot with a hammer.
“He would slap me first, then kick me, then punch me and then drown me,” Bacot said, describing her life as “extreme hell.”
Polette ordered her to work as a prostitute for truck drivers, using the back of a truck, and instructed her through a headset she had to wear to make sure she complied with customer requirements.
Investigators found Polet threatened to kill her if she refused, pointing a gun at her several times.
“This has to stop”
When their 14-year-old daughter Karline began to wonder about her sexuality, Bacot said she decided “this must stop”.
In March 2016, after Polette ordered his wife to suffer another sexual humiliation from a customer, he used the gun he was holding in the car to kill him with a bullet in the back of the neck as he sat in the driver’s seat.
Bacott said she wanted to make sure her daughter would not suffer the same fate as she did. “I wanted to save her,” he said.
Bacott hid the body in a forest, but in October 2017 he was arrested and later released on bail.
Her lawyers said before the trial that “the extreme violence she suffered for 25 years and the fear that her daughter would be next” prompted her to kill Polet.
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 the murder of her abusive husband.
Sauvage won a presidential pardon in 2016 after becoming a symbol of the struggle to end violence against women.
An expert assessment ordered by the court found that Bacot was “convinced that she had to commit this act to protect her children”.
Tomasini said Friday’s verdict, while allowing Bacot to walk freely, was still very harsh.
“How can society claim compensation from Valerie Bacot when she did not know how to protect her?” he said.