A woman who chased and fired a gun at a car in the parking lot of the Kenai Walmart last year was sentenced to seven years in jail on Wednesday during a hearing in Kenai court.
Ashley Nelund, of Sterling, was originally charged with attempted murder, assault and misconduct with a weapon and indicted on felony drug charges shortly thereafter, but reached a deal with prosecutors to reduce her charges.
Ultimately, Nelund’s sentence will include three years of suspended time and a further five years of probation once she is released.
Nelund’s charges came after a Nov. 1, 2013 incident in which she fired multiple gunshots into an occupied vehicle in what investigators have framed as a drug deal gone wrong. A passenger in the vehicle she shot at told police that the altercation started when Nelund approached him and the person he was with about owing her money. The juvenile told police that, as they started to drive away, Nelund opened fire on the vehicle, according to an affidavit. Nelund told police, at the time, that she had fired three shots at the bumper of the vehicle with the intention of scaring the two inside.
In October of the same year, Nelund had delivered heroin to two people, one of whom overdosed and ended up being hospitalized after injection. The sentencing hearing dealt with both the weapons and assault charges and the drug charges — though the two cases are not related.
During the hearing Nelund’s lawyer, Dina Cale, had wanted to present evidence of Nelund’s mental illness, including testimony from a family physician who knew of the woman’s medical background.
However, Kenai District Attorney Scot Leaders pointed out that the specific sentencing mitigator Cale had wanted to insert into the final agreement would require further action by the court and could delay sentencing. The hearing proceeded without the testimony of Nelund’s doctor.
During his argument for the state’s sentencing recommendation, which Judge Charles Huguelet ultimately adopted, Leaders focused on the severity of Nelund’s crime. He said the community needed to use Nelund as an example to others who might be capable of similar violence.
“This is not New York City, this is not L.A., this is not even Anchorage. We don’t have this type of random violence in the Walmart parking lot … this is a very serious incident for the community, the Kenai Peninsula area,” Leaders said. “It warrants a strong sentence.”
Cale framed the situation differently. She said Nelund, who was pregnant during both the drug deal and the shooting, was suffering from mental illness and had gone off of her medications upon becoming pregnant.
During the drug deal, Cale said Nelund had been trading the heroin for suboxone, a detox medication that is used to treat opiate addiction.
“She was self-medicating with what she thought was a better option than heroin,” Cale said.
Several members of Nelund’s family, including a man who filed custody of her two children in March, were in the courtroom. Nelund’s daughter, who was born after Nelund was taken into custody, and her toddler-aged son were also there.
Cale pointed to the family and said Nelund would have a support system if allowed to leave jail and focus on rehabilitation.
“There are people in the courtroom. You’ve seen it. Mr. Leaders has seen it, I’ve seen it when there are no people here,” Cale said. “We may not like the fact that most of them have felony convictions on their record, but they’re all in a place where they are trying to succeed and she, at least, has a support system out there that is here for her and wanting her to move on with this part of her life.”
Huguelet, however, was unconvinced.
Given the recklessness of Nelund’s actions, he said, the state’s sentence of seven years was the least he was comfortable giving.
“We’re all lucky no one was killed,” he said. “The drug conviction, I guess is another issue … I’ve had two people in my caseload who have died in the last couple of months from overdoses. Heroin is not something that is FDA approved.”
He said given Nelund’s age — she is 28 — she had rehabilitation potential.
“You’ve had a rough life so far, that you didn’t deserve. At this point, it’s up to you. It’s no one else’s fault. It’s not your family’s fault. It’s not your boyfriend’s fault. It’s not your friend’s fault. It’s your own fault if you don’t straighten out,” he said.
Cale had also mentioned during her argument that Nelund had not gotten the chance to bond with her infant daughter as the child was born while Nelund was in jail.
Huguelet said children need to have parents they can trust.
“Taking drugs and shooting it out in the parking lot, you’re not that kind of person,” he said. “So, if you want to be there for your child, you’ll have to change. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially if everyone you know is engaged in the drug business, but it can be done. I’ve seen it done.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org.