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Preliminary hearing in Loretta Saunders death adjourns until ruling next Friday

HALIFAX – Loved ones of slain university student Loretta Saunders filed quietly out of a Halifax courtroom Friday as a preliminary hearing marked by grief and angry outbursts was adjourned until next week.

The Crown and lawyers for the two accused presented their final arguments in provincial court to Judge Anne Derrick, who will rule next Friday whether the case should proceed to trial.

Saunders’s sister Delilah grew emotional as she spoke outside the courthouse after the hearing ended for the day.

She said the family can do little now but wait and take care of each other.

“I guess we just try to wait for the decision and try to keep Loretta’s memory alive,” she said as her brother James wrapped his arms around her.

“It’s time for healing now,” he added.

Blake Leggette, 26, and his 28-year-old girlfriend Victoria Henneberry are charged with first-degree murder in Loretta Saunders’s death.

The 26-year-old Inuit woman from Labrador was reported missing from her Halifax apartment in February. Her body was found in a wooded area off the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick about two weeks later.

More than a dozen of the woman’s family members, loved ones and supporters attended the week-long preliminary hearing. Many wore T-shirts bearing the words “speak the truth” and a picture of Saunders and her father.

In all, nine police and civilian witnesses testified. Evidence presented at the hearing is banned from publication.

Neither defence lawyer addressed reporters outside the court Friday.

Crown prosecutor Christine Driscoll said she would not speculate on the judge’s decision.

“I think that we did everything that we could and whatever the result is is what it should be, because that’s how the process works,” she said outside court.

Driscoll said Derrick not only decides whether to send the case to trial, but also whether the two accused should be committed to trial on charges other than first-degree murder.

Delilah Saunders said she hoped the Leggette and Henneberry would be tried for first-degree murder.

“My sister is the most important person in the world to me. Losing her, I don’t know,” she said, before trailing off.

The hearing appeared to be an emotional experience for family members in the courtroom, who often sobbed or gasped at evidence.

Earlier in the week, an uncle of Saunders was removed from the courtroom after he lunged in the direction of the two accused.

The scuffle broke out shortly after Derrick left the courtroom for a brief break following testimony on the third day of the hearing.

The uncle was muttering expletives directed at the two accused when he suddenly lunged forward, yelling. Four sheriffs eventually restrained the man, who was asked not to return.

The two accused were separated and flanked by sheriffs throughout the hearing. They did not speak to each other or address the court.

Leggette stared straight ahead for most of the proceedings and at one point during the hearing could be seen crying. Henneberry often rested her head on a knee pulled close to her chest and hid her face with her arms.

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