Linda McNall gets 8 months for assisting mother's suicide

In a first for Alberta courts, a woman was sentenced today for helping her seriously ill mother die while carrying out a suicide pact last May.

Linda McNall, 53, was sentenced to time served, which amounted to eight months, for helping her mother commit suicide.

During the hearing in a Stony Plain courtroom west of Edmonton, Judge Charles Gardener wished McNall well.

"I hope you receive ongoing treatment and comfort and will come to see there is worth and value to your life," he said. 

Linda McNall pleads guilty to assisting mother's suicide 

McNall and Shirley Vann, 79, drove from their home in Arizona to Rock Lake, Alta., to take their lives in “the most beautiful place on earth.”

Both women planned to die that day in May, but things didn’t go as planned. McNall survived and was arrested after showing up at a hospital in nearby Hinton.

Last month, she pleaded guilty to the rarely laid charge of assisting a suicide.

Both the Crown and defence made a joint submission recommending that McNall be sentenced to time already served, meaning she would spend no additional time in custody. 

​The maximum sentence for assisting suicide is 14 years in prison. The judge accepted the joint submission, noting that McNall was motivated by compassion for her mother and wanted to carry out her wishes. 

On Wednesday, Canada Border Services guards will escort her to a plane that will take her to Phoenix, Ariz. However, it’s unclear what awaits her when she lands.

“It’s very scary: the unknown. You know, I’ve never been homeless before,” McNall said in an exclusive interview with CBC News prior to her sentencing hearing. “It’s really, it’s really just – it’s scary.

Defence lawyer Laura Stevens worries that McNall — who has twice since her arrest tried to kill herself at an Edmonton psychiatric facility — may end up in a homeless shelter instead of a hospital.

“The request by Canada for a hospital to hospital transfer directly has not been accepted," Stevens said.

"She will have to meet whatever requirements they have for getting a bed there. If they don't have a bed — and at this stage we are quite concerned that they will not because she can't afford to pay for one — she is likely to end up at a women's shelter."

In her interview with CBC News, McNall recalled the day she and her mother went to Rock Lake to end their lives.

“We ended up in Canada because we thought it the most beautiful place on earth,” she said.

“We went out there on a Wednesday afternoon, both of us happy, neither one of us with second thoughts.”

McNall, who was divorced following a brief marriage, and her mother were best friends. McNall has two brothers — she is estranged from one, the other vanished decades ago. 

The mother and daughter moved from place to place — Florida, Nevada, Idaho and eventually ended up in Arizona. 

McNall contracted Hepatitis C in the 1990s through a workplace injury. Severe depression led to her being on social security disability for seven years. She also is diabetic and suffers from chronic pain due to arthritis.

Shirley Vann had colon cancer, which McNall said caused her constant pain.

McNall said Vann talked about suicide for more than a year leading up to her death. With her mother's health deteriorating, McNall couldn’t imagine living without her.

There were also insurmountable medical bills -— about $100,000 in total.

While David Schwartz doesn't talk to McNall, his sister, he did call his mother each week and was aware of their problems.

“We — my wife and I and my family — helped them out as much as we could. But I just think it got so extensive they had no other recourse,” he said.

“You know the financial folks were on their back and they were both fairly ill. And I think it just ended up that they just got tired out.”

McNall said she initially tried talking her mother out of taking her life, the two women eventually made a suicide pact.

According to court documents, they sold all their possessions in March, gave notice to their landlord and wrote letters to Vann’s creditors.

They then packed up their two dogs and headed to Alberta, a place they had visited before.

When they arrived, McNall and Vann wrote one line on a piece of paper saying they were committing suicide.

They injected themselves and the dogs with insulin and McNall turned on a propane tank in their tent.

The next day Vann and the dogs were dead. McNall was still alive so she went into town to get more propane.

“Turned it on. Went to sleep. Woke up again,” she said.

“And at that point, I knew that we were out of money and I was so disoriented from the propane I couldn't think of any other way to kill myself there. So I decided to drive us into the hospital.”

RCMP became involved and McNall became the first person to be charged with assisting a suicide in Alberta history.

When McNall arrives in Arizona, she will be assessed by a caseworker and a crisis team.

Doctors believe McNall is still a suicide risk, but she hopes she won’t try again.

“I want to try real hard to make my mom proud,” she said.