Valérie Bacot, whose lifetime of abuse at the hands of her husband shocked France, has been found guilty of his murder but told she can leave the court a free woman.
She was given four years’ jail, with three suspended, but released because of the year she had already served.
Bacot earlier collapsed in court when prosecutors called for her to be convicted but given clemency and freed.
She admitted killing her husband in March 2016 with his own gun.
Bacot, 40, described how she was abused from the age of 12 by Daniel Polette, first as her stepfather and then as her husband. For years Polette had forced her to prostitute herself with other men, but she finally snapped when he began talking about abusing their daughter.
More than 700,000 people signed a petition calling for her release.
‘Justice has been done’
As she left court a crowd of well-wishers applauded, to cries of “Bravo!”. She told reporters her battle was not over.
“I’m not relieved… [I’m] completely shattered physically and mentally,” she said, adding that she just wished to return to her four children.
Bacot had spent a year on remand and ahead of the jury’s decision her lawyers said she should not just be freed but cleared of the charges against her.
“For me it’s an immense victory that that woman is going back to her children tonight and I’m very moved,” said lawyer Nathalie Tomasini. Justice had been done, she said, although she wanted the defence of “battered-woman syndrome” to be accepted in France as legitimate self-defence, as it was in Canada.
Earlier, prosecutor Éric Jallet told the court in the eastern city of Chalon-sur-Saône why it was important Bacot should be convicted but still allowed to walk free.
“A criminal court stands for civilised values – foremost among which is the protection of life. If people take justice into their own hands, then everybody is at war with everybody else,” he argued.
Nevertheless, imprisoning her would not provide anyone with greater protection and the risk of her committing any crime was minimal, he added. He had proposed a five-year sentence, not the four years that Bacot was given.
A case that struck a chord in France
Valérie Bacot’s lawyers had earlier told the court she had been driven to kill her husband because of “the extreme violence that she suffered for 25 years and the fear that her daughter would be next”.
Her case bears similarity to that of another French woman, Jacqueline Sauvage, who was jailed for shooting dead her abusive husband after 47 years of abuse. In 2016 Sauvage received a presidential pardon after serving two years of her 10-year sentence. The same legal team went on to work on Bacot’s court case.
Polette, who was 25 years older than Bacot, spent two and a half years in jail for assaulting her in the 1990s, but later returned to the family home and made her pregnant when she was 17.
In a recent book she wrote about her life story, she said she had been “afraid all the time” and “had to put an end to it”. She told the court that her husband had repeatedly threatened her with his pistol.
She also said that he had forced her to prostitute herself for 14 years. Details emerged in court of how she was ordered to have sex with clients in the back of the family’s Peugeot minivan.
Summing up in court, her lawyer Janine Bonaggiunta explained why French laws were not adequate for this kind of case: “When it has been established that the case involves battered-woman syndrome, she does not spend a day in prison. I would like us too to move ahead with this.”