In Episode 6, Helen is sent to prison for the death of her husband. Around the country, people object to her sentence and the way she’s treated in court. In the isolation of prison, Helen wonders whether she’s done something wrong by accepting the deal, and has to consider what to do next.
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Episode 6 takes us to the time when I first heard about Helen Naslund: The day her 18-year prison sentence was reported in the local news. The headline in The Edmonton Journal read: Alberta woman who killed abusive husband sentenced to 18 years; son gets three years for helping hide body.
On the courthouse steps, Crown prosecutor Dallas Sopko declared, “that the outcome was a just one for everyone involved.”
I was one of the many people across the country who was shocked at the length of this sentence, and I wrote my first letter to Helen in prison a few days later.
I know a lot of people in the legal community in Edmonton, and I talked about Helen’s sentence with many of them as I tried to make sense of it. Many people defended the deal to me, saying there must have been aggravating factors about Helen’s case that didn’t get put on the record in court. But there’s an old saying that, “justice is not done unless it is seen to be done.” I argued that even if there were factors that warranted that length of sentence, they needed to be put on the record so that the public could understand.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one questioning Helen’s plea bargain. As we learn in this episode, a legion of experts, activists and everyday people were moved to try to do something to help Helen in whatever way they could.
It’s interesting to tell a story in the podcast format, which unfolds week by week. Honestly, I was a bit worried about Episode 5, in which we begin to explore the more structural aspects of the justice system. But many people have said that was their favourite episode so far.
Having covered court and crime for many years, I’m glad to be able to help people understand the legal system a bit more. And I believe that oversight and scrutiny of the court and police systems benefit us all in the end. As another old saying goes, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Until next week,