The third day of a preliminary inquiry for the couple accused of killing Saint Mary's University student Loretta Saunders got off to a dramatic start when the victim's uncle lunged at the accused in Halifax provincial court.

Loretta Saunders

The body of university student Loretta Saunders, 26, was founded in a wooded area in New Brunswick. (Facebook)

Victoria Henneberry, 28, and Blake Leggette, 26, both of Halifax, are charged with first-degree murder in the death of the 26-year-old earlier this year. 

Other family members grabbed Saunders's uncle, Herman MacLean, before he could reach the accused.

The ruckus prompted authorities to hustle the two accused into a secure corridor while sheriffs from all over the building 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. "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 as Henneberry and Leggette were taken back to jail for the night.

Even before the courtroom 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. They held 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 of the evidence 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 to testify.

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.

A decision about whether the information discussed will be allowed as evidence is expected on Wednesday.

National search

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.

henneberry and leggette

Victoria Henneberry, left, and Blake Leggette, are charged with first-degree murder in the death of Saunders. A preliminary hearing for the pair has been going on all week. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The 26-year-old 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.

Saunders's body was later found in a wooded area off the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick on Feb. 26.

This hearing is scheduled to go until Friday, and, if necessary, Aug. 1.

With files from The Canadian Press