One of two people serving life sentences for killing an Inuk woman from Labrador over rent money in 2014 will present her final arguments to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in Halifax Thursday on why her murder conviction should be overturned.
Victoria Henneberry, who is representing herself in court, says she was distraught, stressed and panicked when she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in April 2015 for her role in the killing of university student Loretta Saunders.
“I’m not looking for a new trial,” Henneberry told the appeal court justices on Wednesday. “I’m just looking for a change of charges,” she said.
Henneberry said she should have been charged with accessory after the fact and criminal negligence.
However, Justice Duncan Beveridge pointed out to Henneberry that she was facing a charge of first-degree murder when she agreed to the plea arrangement.
“If we were to strike your plea to second-degree murder, our only realistic option is to send you back to trial on first-degree murder,” Justice Beveridge said.
“That’s the jeopardy you would face. Not to turn around and substitute a charge of criminal negligence or accessory after the fact or manslaughter even, you would go back to stand trial on first-degree murder,” he added.
Justice Beveridge also pointed out that Blake Leggette, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Saunders’ death, could be called to testify against Henneberry in a potential murder trial.
Henneberry calls three witnesses to testify during appeal hearing
Henneberry and Leggette were given life sentences after they pleaded guilty to killing Saunders in her Halifax apartment on Feb. 13, 2014. Henneberry cannot apply for parole until she has served ten years in prison. Leggette has to serve 25 years in prison before he is eligible to seek parole.
According to court documents, the couple was subletting Saunders’ Halifax apartment when she was murdered on Feb. 13, 2014. Instead of paying her the overdue rent, Leggette attacked and choked Saunders.
During the appeal hearing on Wednesday, Henneberry called three witnesses to testify, including a psychologist who assessed her and concluded she wasn’t suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when she entered her guilty plea.
“Why do you believe my test results to be exaggerated?” Henneberry asked Dr. Andrew Starzomski in court.
“I administered four different tests and they consistently came back indicating that your responses were extremely and invalid on different aspects,” Dr. Andrew Starzomski testified.
Henneberry also called on Deputy Sheriff Tony Bremner with Nova Scotia Sheriff Services and Crown attorney Christine Driscoll as witnesses. She asked both of them about PTSD and her demeanour around the time her trial was scheduled. Both witnesses said they were unable to confirm any symptoms of PTSD since they were not experts in the field.
Appeal judges deny request for adjournment
Henneberry had initially asked for an adjournment of three months when the appeal hearing got underway Wednesday morning. She explained she is suffering from several disorders including, post traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia and depression.
She said she was seeking another assessment by a doctor she was comfortable with to confirm her mental health diagnoses.
“I’m not prepared mentally and emotionally nor am I ready to go through with it right now,” Henneberry told the court.
However, Crown attorney Mark Scott argued against an adjournment, stating that she has had sufficient time to prepare for the appeal hearing.
“She is holding her own appeal hostage by saying she doesn’t even have the materials to prepare,” Scott told the court.
“That’s why we have copied everything for her,” he added.
After a short break, the appeal panel unanimously ruled to deny Henneberry’s request for an adjournment.
“It’s a waste of resources” – Delilah Saunders
Family members of Loretta Saunders travelled from Labrador to Halifax to attend the appeal hearing. Sister Delilah Saunders, mother Miriam and father Clayton were supported by friends, family members and community members at the Nova Scotia Law Courts in downtown Halifax.
“I feel like it’s a waste of resources, it’s a waste of time,” says Delilah Saunders. “It’s ripping open wounds for our family,” she added.
Miriam Saunders, Loretta Saunders mother, said the reason the family attended the hearing “was to make sure everyone didn’t put their eyes on her (Victoria Henneberry) and pity her.”
“I was able to do some good memories of her before but it seems like they take my good memories and give me ugly, hard, painful ones,” Miriam Saunders said.
“We just want to be able to heal.”