POLITICS

'Is that justice?' father of Loretta Saunders asks as her killers are sentenced

04/29/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 08/06/2015 01:59 EDT
HALIFAX - The father of Loretta Saunders angrily condemned the sentence handed down Wednesday to one of the people convicted of murdering his daughter and leaving her lifeless body on the side of a New Brunswick highway "like a piece of garbage."

Clayton Saunders said outside Nova Scotia Supreme Court that a 10-year parole eligibility period for Victoria Henneberry was unjust given her involvement in the vicious murder of Loretta Saunders, who was in the early stages of pregnancy when she was killed.

"A small, little pregnant woman and two big monsters there murdering her, putting plastic bags over her face and wrapping her up in Saran Wrap and putting her in a hockey bag and dumping her on the side like a piece of garbage," he said outside the courtroom.

"They say they gave us justice — 10 years. Is that justice?"

His comments followed an emotional day in court, where Judge Josh Arnold sentenced Blake Leggette to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years after he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last week.

Henneberry was also sentenced to life in prison, but will be able to apply for parole in 10 years after she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Crown attorney Christine Driscoll explained that while Henneberry was a party to the murder, there is no admissible evidence she was involved in the planning or execution of it. She said that despite writings by Leggette that implicated Henneberry in the killing, none of them was admitted into court.

In his ruling, Arnold accepted the joint sentencing recommendation from the Crown and defence. But he said many lives were forever changed when Leggette decided to kill Saunders over a few hundred dollars in rent money.

"The treachery of Mr. Leggette and Ms. Henneberry has polluted so many lives," Arnold said.

"On that day, Mr. Leggette and Ms. Henneberry introduced a foul poison into their lives and destroyed their innocence, their sense of security, their trust in others and left them broken-hearted and empty."

Earlier, Saunders' mother delivered a victim impact statement that described how her bright, ambitious daughter overcame drug abuse and life on Montreal's streets to pursue a university education.

Clutching a large grey feather and wiping away tears, Miriam Saunders stared directly at Leggette and Henneberry as she expressed how much she misses the Inuk woman she called "my girl."

"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.

"My heart constantly aches to talk to her and hold her and tell her how much I love her."

The grieving mother recounted how she knew instinctively on Feb. 13, 2014, that something was terribly wrong with her daughter who would regularly check in with the family at their home in Labrador.

Miriam Saunders described how she called her daughter's doctor and Saint Mary's University in Halifax where she was studying, in a desperate but futile bid to find her.

She would learn soon after that Loretta Saunders' body had been 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.

Statements were also given by a succession of aunts, cousins, siblings and Loretta Saunders' 83-year-old grandmother, who decried the fact that she was killed over "a few measly dollars" they owed her in rent.

"Today there is an emptiness that no one can fill," her statement read.

Both Leggette and Henneberry rose in court to offer apologies to the family.

"I am sorry I stole Loretta from you," Leggette said.

Henneberry, turning to face family members, said, "I am so sorry. ... It's sad to know I was involved in the death of someone."

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.

"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 she fought back, managing to tear through the three plastic bags he pulled over her head.

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.

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.

Follow @alison_auld on Twitter.