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Judge commits two accused in Loretta Saunders killing to stand trial

Loretta Saunders is seen in an undated police handout photo.

HANDOUT/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Two people accused of killing a university student in Halifax earlier this year have been committed to stand trial for first-degree murder.

Provincial court Judge Anne Derrick said Friday there is enough evidence to proceed with the charges against Blake Leggette, 26, and his 28-year-old girlfriend, Victoria Henneberry.

The victim, 26-year-old Loretta Saunders, was an Inuit woman from Labrador who was reported missing from her Halifax apartment in February. Her body was found in a wooded area off the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick about two weeks later.

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Crown attorney Christine Driscoll said outside court she was pleased the judge accepted the argument that both Mr. Leggette and Ms. Henneberry should face a trial on the original charges.

"The file was well-investigated," said Ms. Driscoll. "We have evidence that we'll feel comfortable putting forward. Ultimately, a jury is going to determine the outcome."

Ms. Driscoll said she expects the trial will last as little as four weeks, which is not long, considering the charges. She said her prediction is based on the amount of direct evidence before the judge.

"This doesn't sound like it would be the longest matter," Ms. Driscoll said.

However, Ms. Driscoll couldn't comment on the nature of the evidence because it is covered by a publication ban, which is typical at this stage of the court process.

As for the Saunders family, Ms. Driscoll said she expected they, too, would be pleased with Judge Derrick's ruling.

"This is what they wanted," she said. "That's a good thing for the family."

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The case is scheduled to move to Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Aug. 28 for a pretrial hearing.

Defence lawyer Terry Sheppard, who represents Mr. Leggette, said he wasn't surprised by Judge Derrick's decision.

"The test [Judge Derrick] has to meet at a preliminary inquiry is such a very low-threshold test," he said outside the court. "Given that test, I'm not surprised that she returned the committal that she did."

Ms. Saunders was a student at Saint Mary's University in Halifax and focused her studies on missing and murdered aboriginal women. During the hearing Friday, Mr. Leggette and Ms. Henneberry sat motionless in the courtroom, both of them wedged between several burly sheriffs seated on a wooden bench.

More than a dozen of Ms. Saunders's family members and friends attended a week-long preliminary hearing that wrapped up a week ago.Many wore T-shirts bearing the words "speak the truth" and a picture of Ms. Saunders and her father.Nine witnesses testified at the hearing, which was marked by angry outbursts and loud sobs.At one point, an uncle of Ms. Saunders was removed from the courtroom after he lunged in the direction of the two accused.

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