Court to hear appeal of Alberta woman’s 18-year sentence for killing abusive husband

The 18-year prison sentence Helen Naslund received for killing her husband has been called unprecedented by advocates and legal experts. 

On Tuesday morning, Alberta’s highest court will hear Naslund’s lawyer ask for a sentence reduction. 

“I feel strongly that there was an injustice carried out in this circumstance,” said Lise Water, executive director of Women’s Shelters of Canada. 

“Even though [the sentence] is an outlier, the case if it is allowed to stand, could indeed provide a precedent for future cases down the road.”

Naslund was sentenced last October after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the September 2011 shooting death of 49-year old Miles Naslund on their family farm near Holden, Alta. 

The 18-year sentence was a joint submission made by the Crown and defence, then accepted by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Sterling Sanderman.

Helen Naslund got married in 1983 when she was still a teenager. According to an agreed statement of facts, 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. 

He was passed out when she shot him twice in the back of the head while he was sleeping face down in bed wearing only his underwear. 

After the shooting, Helen got her youngest son Neil to help her drag the body outside. They dumped his body in a slough.

Miles Naslund, 49 was reported missing in September 2011. His remains were found in a truck box in a water dugout in September 2017. (RCMP)

Miles Naslund’s death remained a family secret for six years until one of Helen’s other sons began telling a number of people about it — including some who contacted RCMP. 

Helen Naslund’s lengthy sentence sparked an online petition asking for it to be reduced. The petition was launched by a support network called Women Who Choose to Live.

It has garnered more than 23,000 signatures worldwide.

“I’m actually not surprised by the response to the petition because male violence against women is a pandemic,” program coordinator Matthew Behrens said. “The message seems to be very consistent. Enough is enough.  

“At what point is the judicial system going to not only understand, but also act upon the reality of battered women’s lives and the very few choices that they are actually provided?”

Those sentiments are echoed in the many letters of support that have been written. 

“For 30 years, society failed to provide Helen Naslund with a basic human right, her right to safety, and now we see her being incarcerated for 18 years,” wrote Jan Reimer with the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters. 

“We support Helen Naslund’s appeal and call upon the justice system to make amends to Helen Naslund and for the historical injustices they have perpetrated upon abused women for decades.”

‘I do not fit in’ 

Naslund, 56, is currently serving her sentence at the Edmonton Institution for Women. In a letter posted on the petition website Saturday, she thanked her supporters and provided a glimpse of her life behind bars. 

Helen Naslund is serving her 18-year sentence at the Edmonton Institution for Women. (CBC)

“It feels like I’m in hell with no way out!” she wrote. “I do not fit in, nor do I feel like I belong here. And I am hating my life every day.” 

Her son, Neil Naslund, was sentenced to three years after pleading guilty to interfering with human remains. 

“My son Neil … got paroled last month and is back home with his wife and kids,” Helen Naslund wrote. “I am so happy for him and hope he can get on with his healing and his life with his wonderful family.” 

She said she hopes the three appeal court justices who hear her case “will understand the complete picture that was missed the first time around.”

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