Blake Leggette and Victoria Henneberry have admitted they murdered Halifax student Loretta Saunders in 2014.

On Wednesday in Supreme Court in Halifax, Leggette, 26, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and Henneberry, 29, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

The pair will return to court on April 28 to be sentenced. First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years. Second-degree murder carries a life sentence and no parole eligibility of between 10 and 25 years.

Their jury trial started this week, but took a sudden turn Wednesday when they decided to enter guilty pleas.

​Terry Sheppard, Leggette's lawyer, said he had been talking to his client about a plea since Monday.

"He's been thinking for a long time now about this day and about this trial. It's been weighing on him since Feb. 13, 2014," Sheppard said.

loretta saunders

Loretta Saunders was a 26-year-old Inuk woman from Labrador who was studying criminology at Saint Mary's University. She was writing a thesis on missing and murdered aboriginal women. (Halifax Regional Police)

"I'm sure he's feeling very relieved in one way in that he's publicly accepted responsibility, but he's very concerned as well. He's very remorseful. It was his idea to plead guilty," Sheppard said.

"He did not want to have the Saunders family go through the very gruelling process of a public trial with all of that evidence coming out over the next four weeks."

Sheppard said he considered asking the judge to declare a mistrial on Monday, because he felt media representatives were tweeting information they shouldn't have been. 

He said Leggette knew a guilty plea wouldn't earn him a lighter sentence. 

"He didn't assess his guilty plea because he thought that the case against him was strong. He entered a guilty plea because of his own sense this was the right thing to do," the lawyer said.

"Mr. Leggette indicated very early on in the process that he wanted to accept responsibility and that led to a snowball effect where Miss Henneberry then decided to accept responsibility and enter a plea to second-degree murder."

Saunders was writing thesis

Saunders, a 26-year-old Inuk woman, disappeared just before Valentine's Day in 2014. Her body was discovered in the median of the Trans-Canada Highway, west of Salisbury, N.B., a couple of weeks later.

Saunders was writing her honours thesis at Saint Mary's University on missing and murdered indigenous women when she was murdered.

Police said Saunders was killed Feb. 13 in an apartment located at 41 Cowie Hill Dr. That's the address of the unit where Leggette and Henneberry were roommates with Saunders.

Saunders was last seen in the Cowie Hill Road area of Halifax on the morning of Feb. 13. Five days later, her car was located in Harrow, Ont.

Yalcin Surkultay, who dated Saunders for 2½ years, told CBC News that when he last saw his girlfriend, she told him she was going to try to collect rent money from her roommates.