Loretta Saunders' family cheers as court rejects killer's bid for new trial
Kieran Leavitt, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Thursday, April 13, 2017 12:38PM ADT
Last Updated Thursday, April 13, 2017 6:53PM ADT
HALIFAX -- The family of a murdered Innu student cheered Thursday after Nova Scotia's highest court quickly threw out her killer's appeal.
"This now can make me heal and start trying to do things with the murdered and missing," said Miriam Saunders of Labrador, mother of Loretta Saunders, 26, whose body was found on the side of a New Brunswick highway in February 2014.
Miriam Saunders said she now hoped to spread the message about missing and murdered indigenous women, as an independent national inquiry launched by the federal government continues its work.
"There's people out there who never had no justice. We're one of the fortunate, and I thank God for that."
Victoria Henneberry had asked the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal for a new trial on grounds that she panicked when she pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of Saunders, her pregnant roommate.
Henneberry and her boyfriend Blake Leggette, who has also been convicted in the murder, sublet a room in Saunders' Halifax apartment and killed her after they ran into financial difficulties and were unable to pay their rent.
Representing herself, Henneberry tried Wednesday to adjourn her appeal hearing to a later date, saying she was "not prepared mentally or emotionally."
Told by the appeal court she had to go ahead, Henneberry returned to court Thursday saying her medication had not been delivered from Truro, N.S., where she has been incarcerated.
"I'm in a dream-like state," she told the judges.
Henneberry's key piece of evidence on appeal was a psychiatrist's scribbled notes, in a bid to prove she experienced disassociation due to PTSD when she pleaded guilty in court in 2015.
Justice Cindy Bourgeois said the doctor's notes acknowledge a diagnosis of PTSD, but she wondered if he could attest to Henneberry experiencing PTSD symptoms at the time of her plea.
"Just everything before the offence. He can't attest to what I was going through during (the guilty plea)," said Henneberry.
Bourgeois told Henneberry her appeal rested on proving she was not "cognitively intact" when she pleaded guilty.
"You just told me this piece of paper... doesn't speak to that very issue," said Bourgeois.
The court briefly went into recess, and soon returned to throw out Henneberry's appeal.
"The panel is of the unanimous view that the appeal be dismissed," said Chief Justice Michael MacDonald. The judges said they would give their reasons later.
Saunders' family and friends erupted in cheers, and jeered and swore at Henneberry as she was escorted from court.
"I left it to the Lord and my daughter's soul," Miriam Saunders told reporters.
Henneberry and Leggette pleaded guilty as their murder trial was starting on April 22, 2015.
Henneberry was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 10 years, while Leggette was given a mandatory life sentence with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
Statements of fact filed with Nova Scotia Supreme Court say the couple connected with Saunders through a Kijiji ad in January 2014.
On Feb. 13, 2014, Saunders went to collect rent from the couple but they didn't have the money, and Henneberry lied that she had lost her bank card and needed to contact her bank.
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, according to the statements.
At one point, Leggette and Saunders fell down. He twice hit her head on the floor and she stopped moving.
Saunders' body was found about two weeks later. Leggette and Henneberry were arrested five days after that in Harrow, Ont., while driving Saunders' car. They also had the young woman's phone, bank card and identification.