NEWS

Loretta Saunders murder accused whisked into court early

07/24/2014 07:31 EDT | Updated 09/23/2014 05:59 EDT
The couple accused of killing Saint Mary's University student Loretta Saunders is back in Halifax provincial court today for a week-long preliminary hearing, whisked into the building early and escorted by about two dozen police and sheriffs a day after her uncle lunged at the pair in court.

Halifax couple Victoria Henneberry, 28, and Blake Leggette, 26, who are charged with first-degree murder in the death of Saunders earlier this year, arrived in court for Day 4 of the hearing around 7:30 a.m. AT Thursday.

​Saunders, 26, disappeared from Halifax on Feb. 13. Henneberry and Leggette had been subletting Saunders's apartment in Cowie Hill. They were arrested in Ontario with her car five days after she disappeared. Her body was found in a wooded area off the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick on Feb. 26.

On Wednesday, Herman MacLean lunged at the two accused. Other family members grabbed him before he could reach the two. Authorities hustled Leggette and Henneberry into a secure corridor while sheriffs rushed into the courtroom.

After the incident, members of the Saunders family pleaded with MacLean to calm down.

"We're here for Loretta," said one family member as others broke down sobbing.

The family was then escorted out of the courtroom to a waiting room.

"I was worried for my client's safety this morning," said defence attorney Terry Sheppard on Wednesday. "That was quite the scary moment."

Once the area was cleared, Leggette and Henneberry were taken back to their cells.

After a morning break, the hearing resumed.

"The sheriffs here are doing an exceptional job. They did an exceptional job this afternoon and contained the situation," said Sheppard.

Police with assault rifles and extra sheriffs were on hand Wednesday as Henneberry and Leggette were taken back to jail for the night.

Even before the outburst, emotions were running high.

Saunders's family members and other supporters waited for Leggette and Henneberry to arrive at the courthouse on Wednesday morning, holding signs bearing the slain woman's photo.

"What did you do to my daughter?" screamed Saunders's mother. "Coward. Tell me."

Publication ban continues

More police witnesses took the stand on Wednesday, but there's a publication ban on reporting any evidence being presented.

Publication bans protect the right of suspects to a fair trial. Preliminary hearings determine whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial.

Senior Crown attorney Christine Driscoll said outside court she expects to call 15 police and civilian witnesses.

Early Tuesday, Judge Anne Derrick excluded everyone from the court for a voir dire, including the Saunders family and media. Only Legette, Henneberry, the lawyers and sheriffs were allowed to stay.

A voir dire is a trial within a trial during which lawyers discuss points of law and the admissibility of evidence.

Judge Anne Derrick decided to allow the information discussed in voir dire to be allowed as evidence, though what was discussed has not be revealed.

The slaying of Saunders renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. She was Inuk, studying Canada's many missing and murdered aboriginal women.

The preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue through Friday, and, if necessary, Aug. 1.

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