Rejecting 'outdated thinking,' court halves Alberta woman's 18-year sentence for killing abusive husband

Rejecting 'outdated thinking,' court halves Alberta woman's 18-year sentence for killing abusive husband

2022-01-13 2:55:00 AM

Rejecting 'outdated thinking,' court halves Alberta woman's 18-year sentence for killing abusive husband

\u0027For the sentencing judge to suggest that battered women have \u0022other options\u0022 is to invoke a stereotype that a battered woman stays in a situation of domestic…

for and against Naslund’s sentence last June.AdvertisementNaslund shot her husband in the back of the head with a .22 revolver while he slept in their Holden, Alta.. farmhouse on Sept. 5, 2011. According to an agreed statement of facts filed with her guilty plea, the crime came after nearly three decades of continual abuse, which led Naslund to attempt suicide on multiple occasions.

AdvertisementThe Naslund family farm in Beaver County on Nov. 6, 2020.Postmediaaccepted a plea dealGreckol agreed with the Crown that joint submissions are a vital part of the justice system because they reduce the need for lengthy trials. However, she found the lawyers failed to produce any case law showing precedent for an 18-year sentence.

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for an abused woman who killed her husband, outstripping many sentences imposed on men who kill their intimate partners. The three-judge Court of Appeal panel reserved its decision after hearing arguments for and against Naslund’s sentence last June. Mona Duckett, Naslund’s lawyer, said that although Helen accepted the sentence as part of a joint submission, she faced “irresistible forces” to plead guilty — among them the first-degree murder charges, which carry a mandatory life sentence, hanging over herself and her son. Duckett took particular exception to Sanderman’s characterization of the crime as a “callous, cowardly act on a vulnerable victim” by a woman who had other options. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content Naslund shot her husband in the back of the head with a .22 revolver while he slept in their Holden, Alta.. farmhouse on Sept. 5, 2011. According to an agreed statement of facts filed with her guilty plea, the crime came after nearly three decades of continual abuse, which led Naslund to attempt suicide on multiple occasions. The violence culminated the day before, when an intoxicated Miles Naslund threw wrenches at his wife, ordered her around with a gun, and dumped their Sunday dinner on the floor, declaring it unfit for a dog. After Helen Naslund shot her husband, she and her son Neil Naslund hid the body in a metal truck box and sank it in a pond on the property. They rented a backhoe from the equipment shop where Helen Naslund worked, buried the husband’s car, and reported him missing. Naslund later criticized the police investigation when it failed to turn up any leads. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content The Naslund family farm in Beaver County on Nov. 6, 2020. Photo by Ian Kucerak / Postmedia Nearly six years later, in August 2017, investigators learned Darrell Naslund — the middle brother — had been telling people what really happened to his father. Helen Naslund and Neil Naslund surrendered to RCMP on Sept. 7, 2017, after police searched the farm. They accepted a plea deal on Oct. 30, 2020, with Neil Naslund receiving three years in prison for indignity to human remains. Manslaughter carries a minimum sentence of four years when a firearm is involved. As part of the joint submission, Crown prosecutor Dallas Sopko and defence lawyer Darin Sprake settled on 18 years, which Helen Naslund accepted. Greckol agreed with the Crown that joint submissions are a vital part of the justice system because they reduce the need for lengthy trials. However, she found the lawyers failed to produce any case law showing precedent for an 18-year sentence. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content She also faulted Sanderman for failing to apply the proper legal test for accepting a joint submission. Instead, Sanderman simply said he believed the lawyers involved were experienced and that “no one (was) being taken advantage of.” Greckol added that it is “beyond time” for courts to recognize the “unique circumstances” at play when battered women kill their partners. She cited statistics from the Canadian Femicide Observatory, which found 761 women and girls were killed in Canada between 2016 and 2020, “mostly by men who were close to them.” Naslund ‘incredibly grateful’ In a statement issued through her lawyer, Naslund said she was “incredibly grateful” to the justices who reduced her sentence, “and to the many people in Canada and elsewhere who supported me through this difficult experience.” Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content “I hope that other women can benefit from the court’s recognition of the terrible situation in which battered women find themselves.” The Crown said it is reviewing the decision and has 60 days to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Helen Naslund, a former competitive barrel racer, was sentenced to 18 years for shooting her husband twice in the head and disposing of his body in a dugout. The sentence was reduced to nine years on appeal. Writing in dissent, Justice Thomas Wakeling said he was unconvinced that battered women syndrome was at play in Naslund’s case, noting that Sprake “expressly stated to Justice Sanderman that Ms. Naslund was not invoking the battered-woman-syndrome doctrine.” He noted Naslund did not claim she received bad legal advice. “Experienced defence counsel with access to Ms. Naslund’s medical records and her family and friends expressly rejected the battered-woman syndrome as a relevant consideration with respect to the severity of her sentence,” he wrote. “He must have had a good reason for adopting this position.” Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content Greckol, for her part, said Naslund’s case exemplified the “classic features of a cycle of domestic violence.” “It is so well known that the cycle can be recognized and named as ‘battered woman syndrome,’ with or without expert evidence.” Elizabeth Sheehy, a professor emerita of law at the University of Ottawa who submitted an affidavit on Naslund’s behalf, called it a “remarkable,” precedent-setting decision. “It’s really hard when there’s been an agreement between Crown and defence as to the appropriate sentence, to succeed in appealing that sentence,” she said. “You don’t find many cases like that.” Federal prisoners typically become eligible for parole one-third of the way through their sentences, meaning Naslund could apply for early release three years after her prison term began in October 2020.