(Miriam Saunders, mother of Loretta Saunders, during press conference Thursday. Trina Roache/APTN)
APTN National News
HALIFAX–It’s been a “roller coaster of emotions” for the family of a young Inuk woman killed last year.
But Delilah Saunders is relieved it’s finally over.
Before opening arguments even began, the Loretta Saunders murder trial ended suddenly after the two accused pleaded guilty.
Blake Leggette will serve an automatic life sentence for first degree murder. Victoria Henneberry faces the same sentence, though she’ll be eligible for parole between 10 and 25 years. She pleaded guilty to second degree murder.
“Personally, a lot of it hasn’t set in,” said Delilah Saunders, Loretta’s sister. “But I think we’re doing good, we are satisfied.”
Loretta Saunders was killed on February 13, 2014.
The family travelled from their home in Labrador to be here for the trial in Halifax. It’s been a high profile case over the last 14 months, garnering headlines across the country.
“I’m pretty exhausted,” said Miriam Saunders, Loretta’s mother. “I have mixed feelings. I have joy, there’s sadness there.”
Both Delilah and Miriam couldn’t sit in on the preliminary hearing because there was a chance they would be called as witnesses. So they never got to hear the details of how Loretta was killed. Miriam has said in the past that she wants to know, but are now spared the pain of hearing it in court.
“It’s a relief that our family will not have to experience the facts in a very public forum and that we can learn them and react organically and without censor,” said Delilah Saunders.
Loretta lived in Halifax while going to university. Her thesis was focused on missing and murdered Indigenous women. It’s a cause the family is picking up in her name.
“Loretta may not be here today but her legacy lives on and will continue to grow through seeking justice for all missing and murdered indigenous girls,” said Delilah Saunders. “There are women who do not receive justice and families who do not receive answers. We are grateful that the perpetrators took responsibility but this often isn’t the case. It feels wrong to feel so happy. They not only took a very important loved one from us but a grandchild or a niece or a nephew.”
Loretta was three months pregnant at the time she was killed.
“We made plans,” said Miriam Saunders. “I was going to quit my job and she was going to go become a lawyer. So my hope is to start advocating for pregnant women who are murdered and their baby. My daughter and her baby are in heaven now.”
When asked what he would say to Loretta if he could see his daughter now, an emotional Clayton Saunders replied, “I don’t think I would say very much, I would just grab her and hug her.”
The family will stay in Halifax until next week. They’ll have a chance to read victim impact statements at the formal sentencing for Leggette and Henneberry on April 29.
The family says then the healing can begin.