Watch above: The family of Loretta Saunders fumed as the judge handed down sentences for Blake Leggette and Victoria Henneberry. Both pleaded guilty last week to the murder of the 26-year-old. Julia Wong reports.
HALIFAX – There was clapping in the courtroom Wednesday as a judge sentenced Blake Leggette and Victoria Henneberry to life in prison for the murder of Loretta Saunders.
Leggette’s parole eligibility was set at 25 years since he pleaded guilty to first degree murder. Henneberry’s parole eligibility was set at 10 years; she had pleaded guilty to second degree murder. The eligibility begins on the date of their arrests last year.
The judge said Saunders had a bright and hopeful future ahead of her. He called her murder despicable, horrifying and pointless. Though the pair pleaded guilty, the judge said they were also responsible for causing the Saunders’s family pain and agony.
He said the treachery of Leggette and Henneberry has polluted so many lives.
Despite the life sentences, Saunders’s parents were visibly distraught after the sentencing.
“I can’t get my daughter back in 10 years if I want,” mother Miriam said shortly after the judge’s ruling in regards to Henneberry’s parole eligibility.
Father Clayton said he would have preferred to see a harsher punishment for Henneberry.
“Blood on her hands from my daughter and she got 10 years. What kind of justice is that?” he said.
“I would like to see the death penalty come in. They don’t got the right to breathe the air we breathe because they took the life of my daughter and grandchild.”
Crown prosecutor Christine Driscoll said the recommendation, which was made jointly with the defense, was based on admissible evidence, the strength of the case and public interest factors.
Driscoll said the Crown discussed the recommendation with the family last week and expected them to be upset.
“Ninety-nine percent of the population in the courtroom would be upset. None of us could fathom really because it was their daughter. None of us can understand that unless you’ve been through what they’ve been through,” she said.
Sobbing as victim impact statements read aloud
Earlier in the day, emotions ran high as Loretta’s family spoke directly to the 26-year-old’s killers and told them how their lives have been changed by her death.
“I can’t express my pain and my anger about the death of my daughter Loretta,” said Miriam Saunders.
“Everyone always fell in love with her when they met her.”
Miriam wiped away tears and took deep breaths as she read her statement, saying a child should never die before her parents and that her life and her family’s life will never be the same again.
“My pain is something I cannot explain. My pain is some kind of monster tearing apart my body and my heart,” she said.
She said that a part of her heart will never grow back because her daughter will never come back.
“I will never hold her ever again. I will never talk to her.”
“I will never ever be the same person because of her being taken from me. Because they have taken her from me, I will always pain.”
Clayton Saunders talked about how he will grieve the rest of his life for the death of her daughter and his unborn grandchild.
As sister Delilah Saunders began to read her victim impact statement, she was overcome with emotion and threw it aside.
“Do you know what you’ve done? Do you know what you’ve f—ing done? You stole my sister,” she said directly to Leggette and Henneberry before storming out of the courtroom.
Fifteen victim impact statements were read aloud in court. Family members talked about how they have lost their sense of security since Loretta’s death and how they feel unbearable anguish over her murder.
Aunts, sisters, brothers and cousins wrote about how they know question the goodness of people and have found themselves living in a nightmare.
Some family members described how hard it is for them to sleep while another spoke about how they found themselves looking at saran wrap in the supermarket. In an agreed statement of facts, Leggette admitted to wrapping Loretta’s head in saran wrap.
Leggette, who kept his head down during the majority of the statements, and Henneberry, who kept her head in her hands, also made public apologies to Loretta’s family.
“I feel the family is always in my prayers. I’m having a hard time dealing with the fact I took a life. I know sorry doesn’t reverse what happened. I hope my plea of guilty helps the family in their recovery,” Leggette said.
“I’m so sorry and feel incredibly terrible for the pain I’ve caused you. I know there’s nothing I can say to ease your pain. Wrong choices were made and I hope you can find it to forgive me,” said Henneberry.
However, the family does not believe the statements made to them were sincere.
Miriam Saunders turned to the media as court adjourned for the morning and said the couple’s apologies were a re-hash of the family’s victim impact statements.
She said she does not believe the pair is actually remorseful for their actions.
Surprise guilty pleas
Leggette and Henneberry entered the guilty pleas a week ago as their trial was supposed to start in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.
The pair had originally pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder but Leggette abruptly changed his plea to guilty and Henneberry pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder in the 26-year-old woman’s death.
Two statements of fact have been submitted to the court that say Leggette and Henneberry were having financial difficulties soon after they moved into a sublet room in Saunders’ apartment, which they had found through a Kijiji ad in January 2014.
The documents say the two wanted to get out of Halifax, but they don’t say why.
“Mr. Leggette planned to kill Ms. Saunders, take her car and leave the province,” both statements say.
On Feb. 13, 2014, Saunders went to collect rent from the couple but they didn’t have the money, and Henneberry lied when she said she had lost her bank card and needed to contact her bank, according to one of the statements.
Leggette then grabbed Saunders by the throat and choked her, but the young woman fought back, managing to tear through the three plastic bags he pulled over her head.
At one point, Leggette and Saunders fell down. He twice hit her head on the floor and she stopped moving.
“Ms. Henneberry remained during the struggle,” the documents say.
Saunders’s body was found in a hockey bag on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway near Salisbury, N.B., about two weeks after she was reported missing.
Five days later, Leggette and Henneberry were arrested in Harrow, Ont., while driving Saunders’ car. They also had the woman’s phone, bank card and identification.
Saunders, an Inuit student from Labrador, was attending Saint Mary’s University and focusing her studies on missing and murdered aboriginal women at the time of her death.
With files from The Canadian Press