A French woman who killed her stepfather, who raped her at the age of 12 and later became her husband, has been convicted of premeditated murder but spared any more time in prison.
Valérie Bacot was subject to more than 20 years of violence at the hands of Daniel Polette, with whom she had four children. The court heard she shot and killed him after he began prostituting her to strangers, fearing that he was about to begin abusing their teenage daughter.
The jury at the court in Saône-et-Lore deliberated for almost five hours on Friday before rejecting the defence team’s claims that Bacot was not of sound mind at the time of the killing, and found her guilty.
She was given a four-year prison sentence, three of them suspended. Taking into account the time she had already spent in jail, Bacot will not return to prison.
There was brief applause in the courtroom when the judge said she was free to leave the Palais de Justice.
Earlier in the day, the hearing was suspended after Bacot collapsed when the attorney general said he was seeking a conviction but did not seek to send her to jail.
Bacot’s story is one of more than two decades of almost continuous abuse to which first her own mother, then other family members, and finally the police turned a blind eye. When her children tried to report their father to the gendarmerie, they were told to go away.
The case has once again highlighted the failures of the French authorities to deal with widespread domestic abuse against women in a country that has one of the highest rates of femicide – classed here as the murder of a woman by a current or former partner – in Europe. Bacot killed her abuser; in the majority of cases it is the woman who dies. So far this year, at least 55 women have been killed by a current or ex-partner in France.
Polette, 61, was living with Bacot’s mother, Joëlle Aubagne, when he began raping her when she was 12. The state’s first failure was to choose to charge him with the lesser offence of sexual abuse, resulting in a more lenient sentence, the court heard.
The second was to allow Aubagne to take her daughter to see Polette in prison and – astonishingly – to fail to stop him returning to the family home on his release from prison less than three years later. Shortly afterwards, he began raping Bacot again.
“Nobody seemed to find it bizarre that Daniel came back to live with us as if nothing had happened,” she wrote in her book Tout le Monde Savait (Everyone Knew). “Everyone knew, but nobody said anything.”
At the age of 17, she became pregnant with the first of their four children and he installed her in a flat as his wife. There followed two decades of almost daily abuse, beatings and threats.
By 2016, Polette was prostituting his wife to strangers, first in their own home, then in the back of the family people carrier. In March that year, Bacot, 40, shot Polette in the back of the neck after one of these people raped her. Two of her children and one of their schoolfriends helped bury the body, but Bacot was arrested in 2017.
The court heard the atmosphere in the Polette-Bacot home was “extremely toxic”. On one occasion Polette had put the gun, with which she eventually killed him, to her head and pretended to pull the trigger. “The next time it will be for real,” he told her.
During the week-long trial, members of Polette’s family and former partners stepped up to the bar to describe him as a “monster”. His sister, Monique, told how he also raped her from the age of 12.
“He told me to go into the bedroom, asked me to sit and then lie down on the bed, and held a knife to my throat. He said: ‘Listen up: what happens stays between us. You don’t tell anyone, or there’s a bullet for mum and a bullet for you.’ That continued every week. It was more and more violent,” Monique said.
Polette’s ex-wife Michèle also spoke of how Polette threatened her. “He was a monster who didn’t deserve to live,” she said.
The defence lawyer Nathalie Tomasini had asked for Bacot to be acquitted, saying she was not in her right mind at the time of the killing. “Valérie is the voice of all those who have been victims of violence, behind closed doors, who we know nothing about,” she told the court.
She rejected the prosecutor’s claim that Bacot’s action was premeditated. “You think that she said to herself at a precise moment, ‘I want to kill him’? No, she couldn’t have.”
Tomasini asked the court to make a legal precedent and acquit Bacot. The attorney general had asked for a five-year prison sentence with four suspended.
“We are at a junction between the old and new worlds. The attorney general understood the dilemma. He has argued for a clement sentence, but he has asked for a conviction. I am asking that you acquit Valérie Bacot,” Tomasini said.
Janine Bonaggiunta, a second defence lawyer, added: “Valerie and her children are alive today thanks to her … Yes, she killed him, but it was her or him. She killed the person who attacked her, prostituted her, treated her like an object.”
However, the attorney general insisted on a conviction. “Premeditated murder can never be a legitimate defence. It is a wish to kill someone – premeditated, in the context of conjugal violence. This court must apply the law,” he argued.
Earlier in the week, Bacot’s lawyers announced that they were taking legal action against the French state for “gross negligence” after claims that the authorities had failed to act on reports that she was being abused.
Before the jury retired, Bacot told the court: “I want to say sorry to my children. Sorry to the children he (Polette) had before. Sorry to his partners. And thank-you to everyone for listening to me.” She said all she wanted now was “to turn a page”.