Man charged with murder of Loretta Saunders in court

Saint Mary’s University student disappeared Feb. 13


HALIFAX – Amid a heavy security presence and tensions that ran high, the friends and family of Loretta Saunders packed a Halifax courtroom Friday to get their first glimpse of the man charged in the death of the Inuit student.

Moments after 25-year-old Blake Leggette entered provincial court, a man in the gallery screamed “You gutless coward” and “Watch, bud, watch” before being reprimanded by one of many sheriffs and police officers.

Sitting on the prisoner’s bench in a light green sweatshirt and jeans, Leggette stared ahead as the case against him and his 28-year-old girlfriend, Victoria Henneberry, was adjourned until March 19. She did not appear in court and was instead represented by her lawyer.

The couple were charged Thursday with first-degree murder after Saunders’s body was found on a snow-covered median off the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick a day earlier. The 26-year-old Saint Mary’s University student had disappeared Feb. 13.

Saunders’s sister said she remained composed upon seeing Leggette in court by drawing strength from the memory of her older sister, an honours student at Saint Mary’s University doing her thesis on missing and murdered aboriginal women.

“I’ve felt Loretta living inside of me, which sounds crazy but I feel her energy and I feel like her sometimes,” Delilah Terriak, 21, said outside court. “I dealt with things the way she would have.”

Other family members, some wearing purple shirts that said, “Stop Violence Against Aboriginal Women,” said they were relieved Saunders’s body was found and would be returned to her parents in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., following an autopsy in New Brunswick.

“Not very often are aboriginal people returned and she’s being returned home,” said Barbara Coffey, her aunt. “She’s going home.”

Lyle Howe, Leggette’s lawyer, said he has not received any material on the case and he and his client are waiting for more information to be disclosed before they can proceed.

“He’s just extremely concerned about what’s going to happen,” Howe said outside court when asked about Leggette. “There’s a lot of unknown at this point, so it’s mostly questions.”

Police allege Saunders was killed the day she was last seen at a Halifax apartment she once shared with the two accused. Police could not say how long the three lived together.

At a news conference earlier in the week, Saunders’s boyfriend said he last saw her as she was leaving his home to check on the apartment he said she was subletting to Leggette and Henneberry.

Saunders’s disappearance triggered a widespread search and public appeals from her family for help in finding the young woman. Dozens of supporters papered the city with posters with pictures of a smiling Saunders and her bright blue car.

It also renewed debate on the plight of aboriginal women across the country, with Saunders’s family and some members of Parliament calling for a national inquiry and action plan to address the problem.

The Nova Scotia legislature held a moment of silence Friday in honour of Saunders.

Several relatives said her life and loss have drawn attention to the issue of violence against native women and that they hoped that would not be forgotten.

“Loretta made a grand point and she hasn’t died in vain,” Terriak said.

Supt. Jim Perrin of Halifax Regional Police explained Thursday that a charge of first-degree murder requires some planning and that “our investigators are satisfied that existed.”

He wouldn’t give any details of how Saunders died.

The Crown dropped charges of auto theft that were filed against Henneberry and Leggette after her 2000 Toyota Celica was found Feb. 18 in Harrow, Ont., south of Windsor.

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Man charged with murder of Loretta Saunders in court

  1. What happened to Loretta is horrible and tragic. What appears to be happening to aboriginal women in this country is a national tragedy, and it is scandalous that so little has been done to find out why they have gone missing and to prevent even more from vanishing.

    That said, I think it is a bit premature to be linking the two at this point. We’ll know more as the evidence comes out at trial, but as of this time, based on the stories I have read / watched, I see no causal link between Loretta’s aboriginal status and her murder, beyond sheer coincidence.

    • Its not just aboriginal women. And for aboriginal women, it is most often the aboriginal men that abuse them.

      Me, I am against women and child abuse no mater what the skin color or race is…. Ism against “arranged marriages” that is really a politically correct name for sex trade. I am against women and child abuse Canda wide and think its a national issue and not a race preference issue.

      It always boils down to an angry coward with serious social issues beating up/rape/murder/et al. on some other person.

      But agree in this, we need a national approach, and not just a single race/subgroup approach. Lots of missing white, middle east, asians too…. If FN women and children have more issues than average, the chief and band counselors should look at cultural causes.

      • so many aboriginal women are disenfranchised from their reserves and work and opportunity in the city, 65% of aboriginal women live off reserve. family violence is socially constructed, not part of a cultural value or genetic makeup.

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  2. In this case I see no evidence whatsoever that Loretta Saunders was targeted due to the fact that she was an aboriginal woman. Based on her pictures, I would say it’s next to impossible to identify her ethnic background. Bringing up the issue of ethnicity in this case, masks the real issue at hand, which is this:

    As a society, how do we produce people who are not just thieves (that’s bad enough), but who feel such a total lack of empathy for their fellow creatures, that they think nothing of killing them and dumping their bodies on the side of the road like the morning trash?

    To most of us, these acts are incomprehensible. Perpetrators of such acts, must have no feelings at all, which is to say that only psychopaths could do such things. Is there anything we can do as a society to protect ourselves from psychopaths?

    Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. As guilty as Blake Leggette and Victoria Henneberry may seem in the court of public opinion, they are still presumed innocent under the law so I am not going to comment on them specifically, as they have not had their day in court. That’s just the way our justice system works, and for good reason.

    The media only has limited evidence so far. And while it appears to have been intentional and premeditated, that has not been proven yet either. It could have been an accident and then covered up. If it was in fact an accident, then the issue of psychopath may be a moot point. I am only putting that out there to explain my feelings regarding punishments in cases like this.

    I think our laws need to change, so that if someone is found guilty of first degree murder in this country, there should be mandatory testing to determine (research Dr. Robert D. Hare) whether they are a psychopath. A psychopath is not capable of being rehabilitated (there is no cure). Therefore, any psychopath convicted of first degree murder should automatically be given “dangerous offender” status, and they should have to spend the rest of their adult life behind bars, with no possibility for parole.

    • aboriginal people don’t have a look, or typical identity as with other cultures. in BC alone, there are 203 First Nations. Within my own family, there is a variety of skin colors and facial features.

      • I wasn’t suggesting that aboriginal people “have a look”. I was simply trying to point out that her ethnic background does not appear to have been a relevant factor in this case. The animals who did this most likely didn’t know and didn’t care what her ethnic background was. Actually, I should say “monsters”. I don’t want to give animals a bad name.