The family of Loretta Saunders burst into applause as a Nova Scotia judge sentenced her two killers to life in prison on Wednesday. 

Blake Leggette and Victoria Henneberry entered guilty pleas — to first-degree and second-degree murder, respectively — last week as their jury trial was to get underway.

Judge Josh Arnold told Legette he must serve 25 years before he can apply for parole, which is the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder. The judge told Henneberry she must serve 10 years before she can apply for parole. 

Arnold said the "despicable, horrifying and cowardly" murder left the Saunders family "crushed, broken-hearted and empty."

"The treachery of Mr. Leggette and Ms. Henneberry have polluted so many lives," Arnold said. 

A family member called the killers a "f--king piece of sh-t" as they left the courtroom, while another said, "I'll be waiting."

'You stole my sister'

Earlier Wednesday, Saunders's sister lunged and swore at the pair who admitted to murdering the Saint Mary's University student as emotions ran high during the family's reading of victim impact statements during a sentencing hearing in Halifax's Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

On Wednesday, before Delilah Saunders was set to read her victim impact statement, she lunged at her sister's killers, screaming, "Don't you know what you've f--king done?"

Sheriffs converged, and she then stormed out of the courtroom, screaming: "You stole my sister."

A few minutes later, she returned to the courtroom and read her victim impact statement, which focused on missing and murdered indigenous women — the topic of a thesis her sister had been writing before her death.

The parents of Loretta Saunders, a 26-year-old Inuk woman from Labrador, also read statements to the court.

'There's no words'

Miriam Saunders sobbed uncontrollably as she read her statement, as well as her husband's.

"A child should never die before her parents, leave alone while pregnant," she said.

Miriam Saunders warned her daughter against getting roommates.

"There's no words to describe my family's and my pain," she said.

"There's a part of my heart that pains and it never goes away."

Miriam Saunders also spoke about Loretta Saunders's troubled past. She said her daughter dropped out of high school in Grade 9, moved to Montreal, and had problems with drugs and alcohol while homeless.

But she was able to turn her life around through substance abuse treatment and then moved back home to finish her education.   

First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years, while second-degree murder carries a life sentence and no eligibility of parole for between 10 and 25 years.

In addition to the automatic life sentence for Leggette's first-degree murder conviction, the Crown had asked for a DNA order and a weapons ban. The Crown and defence made a joint recommendation that Henneberry serve 10 years before applying for parole — the minimum allowed.

Saunders was writing thesis

Saunders had been studying criminology at Saint Mary's University at the time of her death.

She had sublet her Halifax apartment to Leggette and Henneberry, who had failed to pay her rent. On Feb. 13, 2014, Saunders went to the apartment to collect what she was owed.

Saunders Homicide 20150420

Blake Leggette and Victoria Henneberry entered guilty pleas last week, just as their jury trial into the killing of Saint Mary's University student Loretta Saunders was about to get underway in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. (Mike Dembeck/Canadian Press)

According to the agreed statements of fact introduced last week when the pair pleaded guilty, Leggette attacked Saunders, choking her and slamming her head into the floor. Once he subdued her, he wrapped her head in plastic.

Henneberry watched the killing and failed to stop it or call for help.

Leggette and Henneberry then placed Saunders's body in a hockey bag and carried her out of the apartment. They dumped her body alongside the Trans-Canada Highway near Salisbury, N.B., where she was discovered two weeks later.

Leggette and Henneberry were arrested in southern Ontario and have been kept in jail since their arrest.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article wrongly identified the judge as Anne Derrick. Judge Josh Arnold is presiding.
    Apr 29, 2015 3:00 PM AT