Alberta woman launches appeal of 18-year sentence for shooting abusive husband
'I think many Canadians see this as extremely punitive,' law professor says
An Alberta woman who admitted to shooting her husband and dumping his body in a slough wants to appeal her 18-year prison sentence.
Helen Naslund pleaded guilty to manslaughter in March 2020 for the September 2011 shooting of 49-year-old Miles Naslund on their family farm near Holden, Alta.
According to the notice of appeal filed on Thursday with the Court of Appeal of Alberta, "the 18-year sentence brings the administration of justice into disrepute."
The document states the sentencing judge failed to give proper consideration to Helen Naslund's history of domestic abuse.
Crown prosecutor Dallas Sopko and defence lawyer Darin Sprake presented a joint sentencing submission recommending the 18-year sentence, which was accepted by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sterling Sanderman.
Edmonton defence lawyer Mona Duckett is representing Naslund for the sentencing appeal. She declined a request for comment.
The notice of appeal, filed by Duckett, states Sanderman erred in calling the crime "a callous, cowardly act on a vulnerable victim in his own home by a partner."
Naslund got married in 1983 when she was 18. According to an agreed statement of facts that was entered at the trial, it was an unhappy marriage, laden with physical and emotional abuse. The family was in financial trouble and Miles often drank to the point of passing out.
That's what happened on the night Helen shot him twice in the back of the head while he was sleeping face down in bed wearing only his underwear.
After shooting him, Helen got her youngest son Neil to help her drag the body outside.
The next day, the pair took elaborate steps to hide the body.
"They placed a grocery bag over Miles' head, drilled holes in the side of the [tool]box, placed tractor weights inside the toolbox and the lid of the toolbox was welded shut," according to the agreed statement of facts.
They dumped the toolbox and two guns into a swampy area a few miles away from the family farm.
The victim's car was buried in a large hole that was dug behind a shop on the farm.
The family kept the secret for six years, repeatedly suggesting to RCMP that Miles had committed suicide.
Neil Naslund pleaded guilty to offering an indignity to human remains and is serving a three-year prison sentence.
Helen Naslund's sentence has sparked outrage across the country. An online petition asking Alberta's attorney general to review it has garnered over 10,000 signatures.
"I think it shows you that ordinary Canadians read about these kinds of facts," University of Ottawa law professor Elizabeth Sheehy said. "Look at a woman who's been abused for 30 years in her marriage, and who's really lived in captivity all that time, who finally kills the man. I think many Canadians see this as extremely punitive to put her away for another 18 years."
Sheehy is the author of the book, Defending Battered Women on Trial. She studied 91 cases of women in Canada who killed their partners between 1990 and 2005 and published the results.
"Forty-nine of those 91 women pled guilty to manslaughter and the average sentence was two years less a day," Sheehy said. "Eighteen of those 49 women got suspended sentences and only 19 got federal sentences, usually in the range of four to five years.
"The longest sentence I recorded was ten years, so 18 years is almost double of the longest sentence I saw in my study."
Sheehy pointed to the recent case of a Calgary man who strangled his partner, then cemented her body in a basement wall of their home. He was sentenced to seven years in 2017, but the Crown appealed the sentence and it was increased to 10 years by the appeal court.
"Lots of people read those stories and understand that there's something potentially misogynistic going on in the sentencing of an abused woman," Sheehy said.
The notice of appeal indicates that Naslund is serving her sentence at the Edmonton Institution for Women.