Alberta’s court of appeals has reduced the jail term of a woman who shot and killed her abusive husband in 2011.
Helen Naslund, a grandmother of eight, may be able to request parole in late 2022 after the court reduced her sentence for manslaughter to nine years.
Naslund admitted to shooting her abusive husband, Miles Naslund, in the back of the head while he was asleep in September 2011. She and her sons hid the body and the crime remained a secret for six years.
After lengthy negotiations between the Crown and her lawyer, Naslund pleaded guilty to manslaughter in March 2020. In October 2020, the judge agreed to the joint sentence to 18 years.
In a majority decision filed on Wednesday, Judge Sheila Greckol called the verdict unnecessarily harsh for failing to take into account Naslund’s 27-year abusive marriage and ignoring battered women’s syndrome.
“In those rare cases where the proposed punishment would discredit the administration of justice or would be contrary to the public interest, they should not be accepted,” Greckol wrote.
“This is one such case.”
Greckol criticized the trial attorneys for proposing even such a long sentence with no case law to back it up, and Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Sterling Sanderman for accepting it.
“Counsel … did not fully explain to the sentencing judge how they arrived at a sentence that was clearly more severe than those imposed in similar cases,” Greckol wrote. “I feel that the sentencing judge applied the wrong test in assessing the veracity of the joint filing.”
Greckol cited numerous Canadian cases of battered women murdering their partners. Their sentences for manslaughter ranged from suspended sentences to eight years.
During the sentencing, Sanderman called the shooting “a heartless, cowardly act by a vulnerable victim in his own home”.
Sanderman suggested that Naslund could have left or found other options besides shooting her husband.
“It is inadmissible and outdated to suggest that women who cannot leave situations of domestic violence continue to make their choice,” Greckol wrote.
“These observations by the sentencing judge overlook the decades when Ms Naslund was vulnerable and endangered in her own home.”
Greckol suggested that Alberta courts should change their approach to battered women’s cases.
“It is too late for this court to explicitly recognize that cases of battered women murdering abusive partners present unique circumstances that must be considered by the sentencing judge, especially when it comes to battered women syndrome,” she wrote.
Naslund ‘incredibly grateful’
Naslund has been incarcerated at the Edmonton Institution for Women since October 2020.
In an email via her lawyer, Naslund expressed her gratitude.
“I am incredibly grateful to the judges who reduced my sentence and the many people in Canada and elsewhere who supported me through this difficult experience,” Naslund said.
“I hope other women can benefit from the court’s recognition of the dire situation in which battered women find themselves.”
Naslund’s youngest son, Neil Naslund, told CBC News in a text message that he is relieved by the decision.
“She will be able to spend more time on the lives of her grandchildren and the chance to see her very senior father before he passes away, and I am very happy about that,” he wrote.
Naslund believes that his mother should never have been sent to prison.
“I really think she deserves to come home now,” he said.
While Greckol was supported by Judge Kevin Feehan, Judge Thomas Wakeling wrote a dissent dismissing the appeal against Naslund’s verdict.
he rejected a petition signed by 25,000 Canadians who objected to the long sentence, ruling that there was no medical evidence to support the battered woman syndrome claim.
Wakeling believes that if the case had gone to trial, Naslund would likely have been found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 to 20 years.
“This is not a case of battered woman syndrome,” Wakeling wrote. “I am convinced that the fictitious reasonable observer would conclude that Ms Naslund has no good reason to complain about this agreement.
“It probably saved her many years in prison.”
The Alberta Crown now has 60 days to decide whether to file a leave of absence with the Supreme Court of Canada.
A spokesman said the Crown is reviewing the decision to determine what steps, if any, will be taken.