Calgary man who killed girlfriend and her toddler must serve 22 years before parole

CALGARY — A judge says a man who killed a woman and her young daughter and buried them in a shallow grave near Calgary must serve 22 years before he can apply for parole.

Robert Leeming, 37, pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of Jasmine Lovett but not guilty to the death of 22-month-old Aliyah Sanderson. He was convicted earlier this year of second-degree murder in the toddler's death.

Leeming showed no emotion as he was handed automatic life sentences for the murder convictions.

"You murdered Jasmine Lovett, a woman who loved you. You breached her trust and committed the worst type of domestic violence imaginable," Court of King's Bench Justice Keith Yamauchi said as he delivered the sentence Thursday. "You killed her and you admitted to it."

Yamauchi said Leeming also murdered Aliyah, a toddler who was in his care.

"She trusted you and felt safe in your arms. There was some forethought in your killing of this little girl, as you killed her after you killed her mother. You breached her trust."

The mother and daughter were found in the grave in Kananaskis Country, west of Calgary, in May 2019, after they had been missing for weeks.

Family members, who told the hearing that they have struggled with fear and pain since the deaths, said outside court that they feel justice has been served in the case.

Kim Blankert, who is Lovett's mother and Aliyah's grandmother, said she was pleased with the judge's decision.

"Twenty-two years without eligibility for parole is really good," she said. "Obviously 200 years is not going to bring them back, but we're pleased.

"We feel that justice has been served, justice for Jasmine and Aliyah."

Jodi Sanderson, Aliyah's paternal grandmother, said she's also satisfied with the judge's decision.

Although some family members said they had hoped to get more information from Leeming, she doesn't feel like it would have mattered.

"There's no explanation from him," said Sanderson. "Look at all the lies. Can't believe a word."

Sanderson said she hopes to move forward in the grieving process now that the court case is finished.

"It's a lot of stress," she said. "Like Kim said before, 'Every time we come, it's like going back to Day 1."

Lovett's sister and Aliyah's aunt, Jenavie Lovett,said it's been difficult to go through such a long process in court.

"We're just really grateful today to have the closure that we do, considering that some families don't get this type of closure," she said. "We're extremely grateful to be able to move forward."

Prosecutor Douglas Taylor said it's been a long, difficult case for everyone involved.

"It's been really painful," he said. "We hope they feel a measure of peace and comfort and some justice as a result of the judge's sentences, which are severe but so richly deserved."

Balfour Der, who is Leeming's defence lawyer, said it's a heavy sentence for his client.

"It's not far off where we put it at 20 years," he said. "It's in the range for a double homicide involving a child. It's close to where we thought it should be."

Der said his client has taken it in stride.

"This has gone on for quite a while for him," he said. "It's almost like a dulling of the senses. He's been stuck in custody, stuck in the remand for all this time — the ups and downs of the trial and sentencing.

"It has a numbing effect on him."

Der said his client has a right to appeal the conviction in the murder of the child, and a decision will be made in the next 30 days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2022.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press