To their neighbours in the small village of Baudemont, in the Burgundy region north of Lyon, the Polette family seemed perfectly normal.
They were discreet and did not socialise, but when they did villagers remarked that the four Polette children were well brought up and polite.
Inside their home it was another story, a court was told, when Valérie Bacot, the children’s mother, appeared in court accused of killing their father, a man jailed for raping her aged 12 who then subjected her to 24 years of abuse, the court heard.
A jury heard that Daniel Polette, 61, who had been Bacot’s stepfather before he installed her as his wife and had four children with her, was subject to alcoholic rages he took out on everyone in the household, especially her.
Bacot has admitted killing Polette, who she says was prostituting her to men in the back of the family car parked in a nearby wood. He would spy on her and give her instructions on what to do with the “clients” he arranged through an earpiece.
On 13 March 2015, after she says one of the men raped her, she used a pistol her husband kept in the car and shot Polette in the neck as he was driving off.
On Tuesday, asked why she had not sought help, Bacot told the court the police had “done nothing” when alerted to her husband’s alleged violence. She said she had acted in fear of her life and those of her children.
Asked by the president of the court if there had been an alternative, her son Kévin, 20, replied: “What do you think we could do? We went to the gendarmerie, but they told us: ‘We can’t do anything.’”
“There are plenty of other solutions than killing a man,” the advocate general Eric Jallet said. “Like a divorce.”
“Where do you think we could go? We were trapped. He would have found us,” Kévin replied. He told the court he had never known a single happy moment with his father who he described as “irascible and difficult”, especially when he had been drinking.
He would call his children “idiots” and “retards” when they had difficulties at school and hit them regularly, they told the court. The violence was an “almost daily” occurrence, Kévin said.
“When he came home he drank, so he was always annoyed,” he added. “I don’t miss my father.”
Of his mother, he said: “She isn’t guilty. Nobody helped us. We were trapped and we didn’t know how to get out.”
Karline, 19, the third of the couple’s four children, said her mother feared Polette would turn his attention to his daughter.
The day before the killing he had asked the teenager, who was then 14: “How are you sexually?” She said her father would watch her undress and his behaviour became “more and more bizarre”.
“He asked me to come into the bed and would stroke my hair. He asked if I was wearing knickers under my pyjamas. He watched me undress,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable when he looked at me or stroked my hair. It wasn’t tenderness,” she said.
Her mother wept. She said that when Polette started questioning Karline about her budding sexuality, Bacot said she decided that “this has to stop”.
She said she wanted to make sure her daughter wouldn’t suffer the same fate that she had. “I wanted to save her,” she said.
Lucas Granet, a schoolfriend of Bacot’s children, helped bury Polette’s body with the couple’s two eldest sons, Dylan and Kévin.
He said before Bacot shot her husband, the atmosphere in the family home had been “heavy” with Polette’s aggression.
“When he wasn’t there, everyone was fine, happy. When he arrived, no one spoke. Everyone was in his corner … it was no longer the same family,” Lucas told the court.
The couple’s eldest son, Dylan, 22, said it had been important not to annoy their father, but said his mother had always supported the children.
“He could punish us for no reason. At the beginning I thought it was like that in all families.” He described how he had been born left-handed but his father insisted he always use his right hand to write “because according to our father, people who write with their left hand do not succeed in life”.
Dylan said his mother had never spoken about killing their father but added his mother “would be dead from his violence” if she had not acted.
The public prosecutor has been attempting to prove Bacot’s actions were premeditated. Bacot says she had no choice.
Her lawyer, Janine Bonaggiunta, said outside the court at Chalon-sur-Saône: “We have to show this woman is not guilty or the person who is violent but the victim. Valérie was suffering from battered woman syndrome, she was abused since she was 12 and she could not reason like you or me. She was forced to do something that was not in her [nature] to save herself. It was an act of survival.”
The trial will last a week and Bacot, who is accused of murder, faces life imprisonment if convicted.