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Judge commits two people to stand trial in death of Loretta Saunders

Blake Leggette leaves Halifax Provincial Court on April 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Pittman

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Blake Leggette leaves Halifax Provincial Court on April 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Pittman

HALIFAX - Two young people accused of killing a university student in Halifax earlier this year have been committed to stand trial for first-degree murder.

Provincial court Judge Anne Derrick said Friday there is enough evidence to proceed with the charges against Blake Leggette, 26, and his 28-year-old girlfriend, Victoria Henneberry.

The victim, 26-year-old Loretta Saunders, was an Inuit woman from Labrador who 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.

Crown attorney Christine Driscoll said outside court she was pleased the judge accepted the argument that both Leggette and Henneberry should face a trial on the original charges.

"The file was well-investigated," said Driscoll. "We have evidence that we'll feel comfortable putting forward. Ultimately, a jury is going to determine the outcome."

Driscoll said she expects the trial will last as little as four weeks, which is not long, considering the charges. She said her prediction is based on the amount of direct evidence before the judge.

"This doesn't sound like it would be the longest matter," Driscoll said.

However, Driscoll couldn't comment on the nature of the evidence because it is covered by a publication ban, which is typical at this stage of the court process.

As for the Saunders family, Driscoll said she expected they, too, would be pleased with Derrick's ruling.

"This is what they wanted," she said. "That's a good thing for the family."

The case is scheduled to move to Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Aug. 28 for a pre-trial hearing.

Defence lawyer Terry Sheppard, who represents Leggette, said he wasn't surprised by Derrick's decision.

"The test (Derrick) has to meet at a preliminary inquiry is such a very low-threshold test," he said outside the court. "Given that test, I'm not surprised that she returned the committal that she did."

Saunders was a student at Saint Mary's University in Halifax and focused her studies on missing and murdered aboriginal women.

During the hearing Friday, Leggette and Henneberry sat motionless in the courtroom, both of them wedged between several burly sheriffs seated on a wooden bench.

More than a dozen of Saunders' family members and friends attended a week-long preliminary hearing that wrapped up a week ago.

Many wore T-shirts bearing the words "speak the truth" and a picture of Saunders and her father.

Nine witnesses testified at the hearing, which was marked by angry outbursts and loud sobs.

At one point, an uncle of Saunders was removed from the courtroom after he lunged in the direction of the two accused.

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly spelled the name Christine.

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