A French woman who had been facing a possible life sentence for the murder of her abusive stepfather—who had raped her as a child, forced her to marry him, and then pimped her out—has been found guilty, and set free.
Valérie Bacot had earlier collapsed in court on Friday after being told that she would not be returning to jail. The courtroom drama came after a prosecutor announced he would only be seeking a five-year jail term, with four years suspended, in the trial Bacot for shooting dead Vincent Polette in March 2016. Bacot's lawyer, Nathalie Tomasini, had to explain to her that, given the time she had already spent behind bars, she would likely be walking from the court a free woman.
“When she understood what that means, she was stunned, she had a panic attack, and then fell ill,” Tomasini told reporters as paramedics rushed to the courtroom in Chalon-sur-Saône, Central France, and the trial was adjourned. The guilty verdict was announced when court resumed later on Friday.
The prosecutor's decision not to press for a longer sentence came after a surge of public support for Bacot, whose case has become a genuine cause célèbre. Almost a million people signed a petition calling on President Emmanuel Macron to have the charges dropped.
Bacot, now 40, says that Polette started abusing her when she was just 12 years old. He spent four years in jail for rape after she told a school teacher about it but then returned to the family home and continued the abuse. Bacot was thrown out by her own mother when she became pregnant at 17 and then forced into marriage by Polette, with whom she had three further children.
Polette also forced her into prostitution, pimping her out to passing truck drivers in a Peugeot minivan. He would watch her through a hole in the window and give her instructions through an earpiece. It was after one particularly brutal encounter, on March 13, 2016, that she decided she’d had enough after 25 years of abuse. When Polette got back in the car, Bacot killed him with a single bullet to the neck from a gun he kept in the van. Her children helped her bury his body in a nearby forest.
Arrested in 2017 after the body was found, she confessed to the killing and wrote a memoir, Tout le monde savait or Everyone Knew, that became a bestseller. Her case drew comparisons with that of another French woman, Jacqueline Sauvage, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012 for killing her abusive husband but pardoned by then-President François Hollande.
Bacot testified at her trial this week that Polette was already grooming their 14-year-old daughter, and she feared he was going to force her into prostitution too. Bacot’s three eldest children also testified, telling the court that they tried to warn the police about Polette’s abuse but were brushed off.
In a shocking intervention at her trial on Friday, Eric Jallet, the chief public prosecutor for the Burgundy region, announced that he would not be pushing for the life term that Bacot could have faced. He insisted, however, that although there was no point in sending her back to jail and her children needed her home, justice had to be seen to be done.
“A court of law is the affirmation of civilized values, first and foremost to protect life. A society in which we deliver our own justice, well, that just leaves us at war against each other,” Jallet told the jury.
He went on: “Valérie Bacot is a victim, very clearly so. But this is her trial, not an opinion forum.”