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Presidential Pardon Sought for French Mother Who Shot Husband After 47 Years of Abuse

On Friday, French President François Hollande met with Jacqueline Sauvage's daughters and lawyers, who are at the forefront of a widespread campaign petitioning him to pardon her for killing her sadistic husband.

by Pierre Longeray
Jan 29 2016, 6:45pm

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

For 47 years, Jacqueline Sauvage suffered cruelty and humiliation at the hands of her husband, Norbert Marot, a violent alcoholic who also raped the couple's daughters and beat their only son.

Since meeting Marot as a teenager, Sauvage allegedly endured almost daily violence from her husband without her ever reporting him to the police.

On September 10, 2012, she fired three shots at Marot, who was slumped in a plastic garden chair in the family's yard after drinking three shots of whiskey. Last December, Sauvage was sentenced on appeal to ten years in jail for unpremeditated murder, after the court threw out evidence that she had acted in legitimate self-defense.

On Friday, French President François Hollande met with Sauvage's daughters and her attorneys, who are at the forefront of a widespread campaign seeking a presidential pardon for her.

A petition urging Hollande to intervene and free Sauvage has racked up nearly 500,000 signatures. Politicians from all sides have also shared their support for Sauvage.

Hollande has used his constitutional power to grant pardons only once during his presidency: in 2014, when he freed lifer Philippe El Shennawy, who had already served 38 years behind bars on charges of armed robbery and escape.

Presidential pardon
"A presidential pardon does not remove the conviction, like an amnesty does. It simply removes the punishment — partially or completely," explained Pauline Türk, a law professor at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, in the southeast of France.

Presidential pardons are granted rarely and only under "exceptional circumstances," Türk said, noting that there is "a lack of transparency surrounding the exact number of cases."

Several high-profile pardons have marked France's history, including the 1996 partial pardon of gardener Omar Raddad by then-President Jacques Chirac. Raddad was sentenced in 1994 to 18 years in prison for the murder of his employer Ghislaine Marchal. Scribbled in blood across the door of the basement where Marchal's body was found was the misspelled sentence: "Omar m'a tuer."

"The case of Raddad and the case of Sauvage are very different," Türk noted. "Raddad was pardoned because of a doubt, whereas the Sauvage case doesn't seek to challenge a ruling or redress a miscarriage of justice."

"Based on the testimonies heard in court, this conviction is both useless socially and morally untenable," she added.

Throughout the trial, Sauvage's neighbors and daughters have painted Marot as a cruel, controlling, and violent bully. One of the neighbors who testified in court even "thanked" Sauvage for killing him.

"You have done us a service, we can sleep easy now," the neighbor said.

Legitimate self-defense
While there is little doubt that Marot was an abusive individual, the French courts rejected evidence that Sauvage had acted in self-defense, arguing that her reaction to the situation was not "proportionate." The French law regulating self-defense demands that any act of self-defense be "proportional" to the attack one is defending oneself from.

Minutes prior to the shooting, Marot had assaulted his wife in the bedroom where she was resting before returning to his seat in the yard. Armed with a hunting rifle, Sauvage followed him in to the yard and fired three shots with her eyes closed.

"I realized what I'd done and I called 18," the emergency hotline, Sauvage said following the incident.

According to the court, while Sauvage may have spent most of her life living in fear of her husband's sadistic behavior, her life was not endangered at the moment that she shot him.

Valérie Boyer, a deputy from the main opposition party the Republicans and a staunch supporter of Sauvage, has been campaigning to get courts to recognize the concept of "deferred" self-defense.

As she was taken to the police station following the incident, Sauvage learned that her son, Pascal, had committed suicide the day before. Pascal, who was also a victim of his father's physical violence, had just left the family-run transport company.

Like his sisters and his mother, Pascal never reported his father to the police.

No complaints filed
During the trial, Sauvage and her daughters were cross-examined as to why they had never lodged official complaints against Marot. 

"He was a very aggressive person," Sauvage said during her first trial in 2014. "We were scared of him. We waited, hoping it wouldn't start up again."

Sauvage and Marot's daughter Fabienne came close to testifying against her father when she was 16. After being raped by Marot, Fabienne first tried to run away from home before deciding to file a complaint to the local police. She later retracted her story and destroyed the statement she had given.

A court psychologist described the family as having no trust in the legal system, saying it was likely the mother and her children had never "experienced the law as something that could lead to punishment." Mother and daughters repeatedly told the court they feared Marot would walk free and harm them in retaliation for making a complaint.

Hollande has said that he will "take time to think" about the case, according to French daily Le Parisien. 

A decision is expected in the coming days.

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray

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This story originally appeared in VICE News' French edition.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

crime & drugs
Jacqueline Sauvage
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presidential pardon
French president
francois holande
norbert marot