Presidential pardon ‘last hope’ for woman who killed abusive husband
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A French woman jailed for killing her abusive husband has become a cause célèbre whose only hope for freedom is a rare presidential pardon.
On September 10, 2012, the day after her son hanged himself, Jacqueline Sauvage shot her husband Norbert Marot three times in the back with a hunting rifle.
In her defence, Sauvage, 68, said Marot was a violent alcoholic who had raped and beaten her during their 47-year marriage. She also claimed he had abused their son.
Her three daughters testified during the trial that they were “terrified” of their father, while one told the court he had raped her when she was 16, and described his death as a “relief”.
Sauvage was convicted in October 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her appeal on the grounds that she had acted in self defence was rejected the following year.
Hollande takes time ‘for reflection’
Public support has been mounting for Sauvage to be pardoned, and an online petition has gathered more than 400,000 signatures.
Seven members of female activist group Femen staged a protest outside the prison where she is being held in Saran in north-central France last week, while on January 23, hundreds of demonstrators marched in Paris under the banner “Je Suis Jacqueline Sauvage” demanding her release.
Politicians have also weighed in on the case to promote women’s rights, visiting Sauvage in prison and writing to French President François Hollande to demand the leniency that is in his power to bestow.
Hollande, who met with Sauvage’s daughters on Friday, said this weekend he would take time “for reflection” before making a decision.
His daughters are hopeful. “He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no either,” one of the women told reporters after the meeting. “He is conscious of the very real problem of marital violence.”
Hollande, however, is wary of interfering with France’s criminal justice system. In 2012, he said that using his office to pardon convicted criminals belonged to “a different concept of power” from his own vision of leadership.
He has only used this power once, in 2014, to secure the release of bank robber Philippe El Shennawy – who had served 38 years of a life sentence.
Sauvage remains behind bars until Hollande announces his decision.
Three shots ‘not proportional’
Sauvage’s 2014 appeal hearing foundered on a point of French law, which states that an act of self-defence must be proportional and in direct response to the act of aggression.
Judges also questioned her apparent passivity during her 47-year marriage, asking why it had taken her so long to act against the man who had abused her and her children.
"She should have responded to her husband's violence with a proportional act [for the self-defence argument to be accepted]," the public prosecutor said at her appeal hearing. "Three shots fired in the back is not acceptable."
This legal stipulation was challenged by Sauvage’s lawyer during her appeal, who asked for the courts to "push the limits of self-defence applied to situations of marital violence”.
Feminist support group Osez le Feminisme (Dare To Be Feminist) called for the definition of self-defence to be expanded in cases of "female victims of violence".
One French woman, Alexandra Lange, who killed her abusive husband by stabbing him in the throat as he tried to strangle her, was acquitted in 2012 after judges rules her response to his violence was “proportional”.
But she also called for the legal justifications for self-defence to be relaxed, telling Radio Bleu Nord that the law "didn't recognise Jacqueline as a victim, but as a criminal".
"She was only retaliating against 47 years of attacks. What would they have preferred? That she become one of the 118 women who die each year at the hands of their violent husbands?" she asked.
The French press has also been widely supportive of a change to the law that would recognise the desperation of women who are genuine victims of abuse.
“The law must absolutely be changed,” wrote editorialist Jean Levallois in regional daily La Presse de la Manche. “For the moment, the only hope for a woman who has lived through hell is for the head of state to come directly to her rescue.”