In 2012, Jacqueline Sauvage fatally shot her husband with a hunting rifle.
Sauvage alleged that Norbert Marot had abused her for decades, a claim that was echoed by her daughters, who said they too were targets of abuse.
The French woman was convicted of killing her husband and sentenced to 10 years in prison. But she gained the support of thousands, who clamored for her freedom as the case raised awareness about domestic violence.
On Wednesday, the 69-year-old Sauvage was released from prison on a full pardon from President François Hollande.
“The president of the Republic judged that Madame Sauvage's place was not in prison today, but close to her family,” Hollande's office said in a statement.
Sauvage was reportedly being held in Reau prison, southeast of Paris. The Associated Press reported that after Hollande's decision, she was seen in a car leaving the prison where she had been held for more than three years.
J'ai décidé d'accorder à Jacqueline Sauvage une remise gracieuse du reliquat de sa peine. Cette grâce met fin immédiatement à sa détention.
— François Hollande (@fhollande) December 28, 2016
The New York Times reports that Sauvage in 2014 was found guilty in the death of Marot, who was struck three times in the back. The case was appealed a year later, according to the Guardian, but the conviction was upheld.
The night of the shooting, on Sept. 10, 2012, Marot had allegedly struck Sauvage, awakening her from a nap because he wanted food, the Times wrote. But she grabbed a rifle from a closet and turned the gun on him instead, the newspaper reported. In the aftermath of the case, the Times wrote, Sauvage became “a cause célèbre for those who want homicide laws changed to take into account killers who are victims of domestic abuse.”
The AP reported that Sauvage claimed that Marot's abuse against her had gone on for more than 40 years — and the allegations of violence didn't come just from Sauvage herself. According to the AP, the couple's daughters, who are adults, also said they were abused by their father. According the Guardian, one of Sauvage's daughters testified: “We were afraid of him, he terrified us.” Another called his death a “relief.”
Sauvage's son had committed suicide the day before Sauvage shot Marot, the BBC reported.
Sauvage’s case has cast a spotlight on the tricky and controversial legal argument known as “battered woman syndrome”.
Her lawyer Nathalie Tomasini had appealed to the court to “push the limits of self-defence applied to situations of marital violence.”
In French law for an act to be considered self-defence, it must be seen as proportional and in direct response to an act of aggression.
Killing in response to repeated acts of violence suffered over decades, as in Sauvage’s case, did not meet this test.
The AP noted that hundreds of thousands had signed a petition calling for Sauvage's pardon and that she had garnered support from advocates and politicians in France. She had previously been granted a partial pardon, which meant she could try to get parole, according to the AP.
“I'm so happy,” Tomasini, the attorney, told Le Monde, speaking of Hollande's decision. “It’s the result of a year of intense work.”
The feminist organization Osez le feminisme called Wednesday's pardon “the fruit of the union of all the feminist associations and, even bigger, the huge mobilization that took place.”
“French society must now also examine its conscience: How could the blows of this man send this woman to the emergency room three times, without anyone being moved?” it said in a statement.
The decision was also praised by Manuel Valls, the former French prime minister who recently announced he would step down to focus on a presidential bid.
“I salute the humane decision of the president concerning Jacqueline Sauvage,” he wrote on Twitter. “Let’s continue to fight the violence done to women.”
Je salue la décision humaine du Président concernant Jacqueline Sauvage. Continuons à combattre les violences faites aux femmes.
— Manuel Valls (@manuelvalls) December 28, 2016