HALIFAX—A Halifax judge has sentenced a couple to life in prison for the murder of Loretta Saunders, whose remains were found inside a hockey bag along a highway in New Brunswick last year.
Victoria Henneberry, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, will become eligible for parole in 10 years.
Blake Leggette faces an automatic life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years after he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.
In his ruling Wednesday, Judge Josh Arnold of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court accepted the joint sentencing recommendation from the Crown and defence.
Earlier during the sentencing hearing, the mother of Loretta Saunders delivered a victim impact statement describing how her daughter overcame a life of drug abuse and sleeping on the streets to pursue a university education.
“I will always be so proud of what she accomplished in her 26 short years of life,” she told the court, breaking down and sobbing loudly.
“Me and my family’s life has never been the same. … My heart constantly aches.”
Both Leggette and Henneberry made statements of apology to the family for what they had done.
“I am sorry I stole Loretta from you,” Leggette said in his brief statement to the court.
Henneberry, turning to face family members, said, “I am so sorry. … It’s sad to know I was involved in the death of someone.”
In arguing for a 10-year parole eligibility period for Henneberry, Crown attorney Christine Driscoll said that while she was a party to the murder, there is no admissible evidence she was involved in the planning or execution of it.
Still, Driscoll said Saunders’ death was a “completely pointless waste.”
Many supporters of Saunders and her family attended court wearing T-shirts that said, “Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.”
Two statements of fact were 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.