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Loretta Saunders's cause will live on, family vows after accused's day in court

Loretta Saunders, seen in this undated police handout photo, has been missing since Feb. 13.

HANDOUT/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Loretta Saunders's legacy will be that native women who are murdered or disappear will never be forgotten, her family vows.

In an emotional news conference Friday, after the court proceedings of the two accused of killing the 26-year-old Saint Mary's University student, the victim's family said they wanted to see the court hold people accountable.

Ms. Saunders's eldest brother, Edmund, who has said little during the two-week ordeal, spoke up: "No more of our beautiful women will go missing. We are young and we're smart. We're not the old ones that are going to sit down and be quiet any more," he said.

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"We came here. We got explanations … We got her back and it's a proven point that any and every missing aboriginal woman can be found and they will be found from now on."

For the Saunders family it has been two weeks of high emotion and tension, culminating in a Halifax courtroom Friday morning where for the first time they faced Blake Leggette, 25, one of the accused charged with first degree murder.

Five sheriffs and two Halifax police officers accompanied Mr. Leggette. Dressed in a light green sweatshirt and his head shaven, he stared straight ahead – even as a spectator, not known to the family, yelled "You gutless coward." Several people in the courtroom applauded the outburst as a security official instructed the man to be quiet.

Victoria Henneberry, 28, the co-accused and Mr. Leggette's girlfriend, did not physically appear in the courtroom. Her lawyer, Patrick MacEwen, dealt with her case. However, she was in the building. She was captured by photographers as she was led into the courthouse handcuffed and clutching a dog-eared paperback novel, As Seen on TV, about "sex, lies and reality TV" and the young woman whose life begins to "unravel in dramatic style."

Halifax police laid the murder charges Thursday. Their case was put over until March 19, to give their lawyers time to go over the documents and information regarding their case.

Ms. Henneberry and Mr. Leggette were subletting Ms. Saunders's 10th-floor apartment in a high-rise building in a working-class Halifax suburb. Police say that they had been roommates for about a month, but do not know whether Ms. Saunders had lived with them the entire time.

Not much more is known about the two accused. Lyle Howe, Mr. Leggette's lawyer, says his client hasn't said "a whole lot."

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"He is just extremely concerned about what is going to happen. There is a lot of unknown at this point so there are mostly questions."

Court documents show that Ms. Henneberry, who also calls herself Victoria Lea Galbraith, was charged in January, 2011, with uttering threats to "cause death or bodily harm" against another woman.

At the time she was living on Gottingen Street, the main street of a once run-down neighbourhood undergoing gradual gentrification. The court record document a year of appearances, adjournments and absences, which led to a warrant being issued for her arrest.

Ms. Saunders disappeared on Feb. 13. She left her boyfriend's place in the morning and went to her apartment to collect rent owed to her. For two weeks her family, many of whom live in Labrador, her friends and even strangers searched the city. Earlier this week, her body was found in the median of the Trans-Canada Highway, just west of Moncton.

Ms. Henneberry and Mr. Leggette were arrested on Feb. 18 near Windsor, Ont., initially charged with stealing Ms. Saunders's car.

Police believe Ms. Saunders was killed on Feb. 13 in her apartment. They have given few other details as they continue to piece together their homicide investigation.

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At Friday's news conference, the family thanked the media for its help and for keeping the issue of violence against aboriginal women in the spotlight. Ms. Saunders was taking an honours degree in criminology and planning to write her thesis on the issue. Her sister, Delilah, 21, said she had helped Ms. Saunders with her proposal. She said her sister's passion for the subject came from the fact that she, too, was marginalized.

"… the system is still in place to fail aboriginal women," she said.

Ms. Saunders's parents, Miriam and Clayton, want their daughter's thesis proposal to come home to them – family members vowed Friday to finish what Ms. Saunders had just started.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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