Loretta Saunders’ killer loses appeal of murder conviction

Victoria Henneberry (right) lost her bid to have her murder conviction overturned Thursday. Henneberry pleaded guilty to killing Loretta Saunders (left) in Feb. 2014/Photos courtesy of Delilah Saunders and the Executive Office of the Nova Scotia Judiciary

Applause and cheers quickly turned into profane shouts in a Halifax courtroom Thursday after an appeal court panel dismissed Victoria Henneberry’s request to have her second-degree murder conviction overturned.

One person yelled, “Go to hell” as sheriff deputies quickly escorted Henneberry from the courtroom.

The three-member panel deliberated for only a few minutes before unanimously agreeing to dismiss the appeal. Chief Justice Michael MacDonald said the panel will give reasons for its decision at a later date.

Henneberry is currently serving a life prison sentence with no chance of parole for ten years for her role in the killing of Inuk woman Loretta Saunders. The 26-year-old from Labrador was attending Saint Mary’s University in Halifax when she was killed on Feb. 13, 2014.

Blake Leggette, Henneberry’s then boyfriend, is serving life in prison for first-degree murder for killing Saunders. He has to serve 25 years in prison before he can apply for parole.

Henneberry, who represented herself during the two-day appeal hearing, argued that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in April 2015.

She told the panel that being held at the Central Nova Correctional Facility in Dartmouth, N.S. while awaiting trial was a “traumatic experience” for her.

“I was harassed, bullied, threatened, hyper-vigilant,” Henneberry said in court. “I had trouble sleeping, focusing. I completely shut down,” she said.

However, Crown attorney Mark Scott argued that Henneberry’s affidavit about her mental illness included hearsay statements and that her PTSD claim remains undiagnosed.

Scott also pointed out that procedural safeguards are in place to accompany guilty pleas like Henneberry’s.

“Those procedural safeguards contemplate the anxiety and stress associated with the very plea, “ Scott said in his final arguments.

“We submit that all of the safeguards for Ms. Henneberry were accomplished here,” he said.

Loretta Saunders’ family pleased with appeal dismissal

Loretta Saunders’ parents, Miriam and Clayton Saunders, speak with reporters outside of court Thursday/Photo by Stephen Brake

Family members of Loretta Saunders travelled from Labrador to Halifax to attend Henneberry’s two-day appeal hearing. They and their supporters filled the courtroom each day to observe court proceedings.

Outside of the courthouse, drummers sang the Mi’kmaw Honour Song and the Strong Women’s Song for the Saunders family after court.

“We are very pleased with the work that the Crown (has) done,” Miriam Saunders, Loretta’s mother, said outside of the courtroom afterward.

“I know the justice system to us is not right but I felt that today, the justice system did us a very good job and I’m very pleased,” she added.

Miriam Saunders said she can now heal so she can focus her efforts on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

“I know there’s people out there who had no justice. We’re one of the fortunate and I thank God for that,” she said.

“I believe Loretta’s death was the reason for this. (It) is to open the door to the murdered and missing and I’m very grateful for that.”

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.