In a soft, wavering tone, Ashley Haley pleaded guilty Monday morning to first-degree murder in the death of 20-year-old Jennifer Horne.
The unexpected development came as the four-week trial for Desmond Maguire, 39, and his 22-year-old common-law wife Haley was set to open at the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.
Before jury selection began at 9:30 a.m., Haley’s defence lawyer Kevin Burke rose and told Justice Richard Coughlan that his client wanted to plead guilty to her involvement in the death of Horne, a 20-year-old Cole Harbour woman found dead in a Dartmouth apartment on New Year’s Eve, 2007.
She was reported missing by her family the day before.
With a guilty plea to first-degree murder, Haley is automatically handed a life-sentence in prison with no eligibility of parole for 25 years.
A brief summary of Horne’s death was read to the court, but those details are under a publication ban because Maguire is proceeding to trial. He is also facing a first-degree murder charge in Horne’s death.
“Is your plea of guilty being made freely and voluntarily,” Coughlan asked Haley, who was dressed in mostly black and spent much of the 20-minute proceeding looking down at the ground.
“Yes sir,” she replied.
Outside of court, Burke said his client has been considering the plea option for some time and understood the decision she was making.
“A person pleading guilty to first-degree murder, that’s not a spur of the moment decision,” he told reporters. “It’s something that has to be pondered very, very carefully, and considered very, very carefully, not only by my client, but also by myself.”
No members of the Horne family were present for the guilty plea. A sentence hearing for Haley will take place on June 30.
Later in the morning, jury selection began in the trial of Maguire, who was sporting a brown buttoned-up dress shirt and jeans. A sheriff sat in-between Haley and Maguire when court proceedings began. Haley was escorted from the court after pleading guilty.
A pool of about 600 people has been called for jury selection.