Murder or accident: Calgary man's trial in toddler's death hears final arguments

·3 min read

CALGARY — The lawyer for a man who has admitted to murdering his former girlfriend but denies killing her daughter says a lack of evidence should raise reasonable doubt about his guilt, but the Crown says his denial is a calculated scheme to get away with the crime.

Robert Leeming, 36, pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial to the second-degree murder of Jasmine Lovett in 2019, but not guilty in the death of 22-month-old Aliyah Sanderson.

In his closing arguments Tuesday, defence lawyer Balfour Der said there is no evidence to prove that Leeming was responsible for the girl's death.

Der said the medical examiner who testified at the trial acknowledged that it was possible the toddler's head injuries were the result of a fall down stairs.

"The absence of evidence will support reasonable doubt," Der told Court of Queen's Justice Keith Yamauchi, who has heard the case without a jury.

"The verdict ... should be not guilty, but I say, as an alternative, that there may be a finding of manslaughter if the court can come to that conclusion, either from a negligence perspective or even from an unlawful act," Der said.

"There should certainly not be a finding of guilt from the evidence that we have."

Leeming testified he was looking after Aliyah when she fell down some stairs. He said he checked on her later and found her limp and unresponsive. He said he snapped when Lovett — who had been his girlfriend but was at that time living in his house as a tenant — accused him of doing something to her child.

Leeming admitted to striking Lovett a number of times with a hammer before coming back with a rifle and shooting her in the head.

"If the man intends to kill the girl, why would he leave her alive?" asked Der. "He leaves her there breathing, apparently, and yet they say he deliberately tried to kill her.

"He could even have suffocated her, but we know there was no evidence of suffocation."

Prosecutor Doug Taylor said Leeming's behaviour when he buried their bodies in a shallow grave west of Calgary was beyond suspicious. He pointed to the steps Leeming took to mislead the public and to his demeanour when he laughed during two television interviews.

"What was so amusing? Two people, one 22 months old, were dead. Why at that point? If Aliyah had been an accident and he loved her, what's so funny?" Taylor asked.

"He told lie after lie after lie after he murdered Jasmine, and, so says the Crown, Aliyah. He lied to the police. He lied to the public. He lied to his ex-wife. He lied to his employer. All of this was a calculated scheme to get away with murder — and not just one, but two."

Taylor said when Leeming was befriended by two undercover police officers and led them to the bodies, he never told them that Aliyah's death was an accident.

"Who in that situation would not avail themselves of the opportunity to say Aliyah's death was an accident?" Taylor asked.

"There are no points in bad-guy land for killing kids or anywhere else for that matter. No one would pass up that opportunity unless it was not an accident."

Lovett and her daughter were reported missing on April 23, 2019, and found two weeks later.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2021.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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