WARNING: This story contains disturbing details. Discretion is advised.
After three weeks of hard-to-hear testimony, the Crown and defence presented closing arguments in a Calgary courtroom for the judge-alone murder trial of Robert Leeming on Tuesday.
The defence said there are gaps in evidence that should raise reasonable doubt on Leeming’s guilt while the Crown said Leeming tried to get away with two murders through misdirection and a calculated scheme.
Leeming, a 36-year-old U.K. citizen, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Calgary mother Jasmine Lovett, 25, but not guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Lovett’s daughter, 22-month-old Aliyah Sanderson, in April 2019.
Leeming testified he hit Lovett, his former girlfriend and tenant, on the head with a hammer and shot her. A forensic pathologist said Sanderson died of blunt-force trauma.
“It’s kind of like getting hit by a truck every day that we come in here, but we still come and stand up for Jasmine and Aliyah,” Kim Blankert, Lovett’s mom, told Global News.
“It doesn’t matter to me what happens to Robert Leeming because it doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t bring the girls back. Obviously, we want justice, but it doesn’t matter in the long run, as far as the healing goes. The healing comes from after this is all over, and we can just move forward and away from all of the violence.”
‘Absence of evidence’: defence
Leeming’s lawyer Balfour Der started his argument by saying this case is tragic and “incites the urge to hold someone responsible no matter what,” but he advocated for a “strict and dispassionate” application of law.
Der noted there could be a finding of manslaughter — due to an unlawful act, negligence or not getting Sanderson help — but argued Leeming should not be found guilty of second-degree murder because the “absence of evidence will support reasonable doubt.”
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There is no evidence for Leeming deliberately killing Sanderson, Der said. He said Sanderson’s blunt-force trauma could have been caused by a fall down the stairs, pointing to the medical examiner’s evidence presented at trial.
Der said if Leeming intended to kill Sanderson, why would he inflict injuries where she was conscious and breathing for three to six hours?
“He’s already killed Ms. Lovett, and how did he kill her? He hits her violently with a hammer and then shoots her in the head, from which she dies instantly. So when it comes time to kill the child, he’s got at least, in recent memory and that hand, two effective means of killing the child. He’s got the hammer, and he’s got the gun. Neither are used.”
Crown prosecutor Doug Taylor said a fall does not fit forensic evidence and “defies logic.”
Der acknowledged contradictions in Leeming’s story but said “the consistent repeated story from Mr. Leeming is ‘I did not kill Aliyah Sanderson.'”
Leeming’s demeanour was consistent throughout, Der said.
“The reason why I say my client’s performance as the witness doesn’t matter in this case is because he did not do the things that we might expect from a stellar witness from the start to the finish,” Der said.
“Even when I was asking the easy questions at the beginning, his eyes were cast downwards. He did not speak loudly, confidently, but that was the same throughout.”
Taylor later addressed Leeming’s different demeanour from court versus media interviews.
“He certainly didn’t have any difficulties speaking and projecting during those interviews,” he said.
Don’t convict on suspicion: defence
Der told the judge not to convict a man on suspicion.
“We can be suspicious… but that does not add up to proof,” he said.
“While this man is guilty of the death of Ms. Lovett, he is not guilty of Aliyah Sanderson’s death.”
‘Whistling past the graveyard’
Taylor said there is one overarching question that looms over the trial: what happened between the afternoon of April 16, 2019, when Leeming picked up Sanderson from daycare and the time when Leeming “so viciously beat and then shot Jasmine Lovett to death?”
“What was it that caused the accused to so suddenly do such terrible things?” Taylor said.
“Life was just starting for both of them,” he said of Lovett and Sanderson.
Taylor recapped the evidence and detailed Leeming’s “elaborate attempts to cover his tracks, to misdirect, to deflect, to get away with murder.”
The Crown said Leeming texted Lovett’s phone after she was dead, “played dumb” when police did a welfare check, barricaded the door so police couldn’t get in, planted bacon in his home to throw off cadaver dogs, bought mulch because it smells like death and threw out firearm parts, personal items from Lovett and Sanderson, Lovett’s shredded passport, cleaning products and baby food.
“He’s got bacon on the back of chairs, he’s playing with the police, he’s whistling past the graveyard,” Taylor said.
Committing ‘murder to get away with a murder’
Taylor called Leeming a liar, saying his testimony was “malleable and fluid.”
“Mr. Leeming admitted to being a liar while under oath in the witness box. He told lie after lie after lie after he murdered Jasmine and, so says the Crown, Aliyah,” he said, adding Leeming lied to police, the public, his ex-wife, his employer and his dad.
“All of this was a calculated scheme to get away with murder, and not just one, but two. The evidence makes clear he committed a murder to get away with a murder.”
Leeming willingly participated in interviews with journalists, Taylor said.
“He could have walked away. Instead, he stood there and lit a cigarette, played cute, chose to participate, chose to answer questions, giggled,” he said.
“He knew what the questions would be about. He wasn’t being interviewed about what an amazing heavy-duty mechanic he was. He was being interviewed about two murders. One of them, the allegation that he was a child murderer.”
Telling the truth to strangers
Then came Operation Highwood, an undercover sting that lasted six hours. Leeming led the officers to the “most damning evidence of all” — the bodies — 4.5 hours in, Taylor said.
After all the lies, an odd thing happened, Taylor said: Leeming finally chose to tell the truth to strangers.
“You can see it from outer space. Leeming: ‘Someone tried to expose who I am,'” Taylor said, citing the Highwood transcript.
Not once did Leeming mention Sanderson to the undercover officers, “even though these men thought he was a child murderer,” Taylor said.
“You’re telling them everything else, the biggest secret that you’ve got in your life, the thing you must be thinking about every second of every day. He doesn’t mention Aliyah. I find that astounding,” he said.
“Everyone thinks you murdered a child, yet you’re laughing on TV… When finally asked about why you did it, you only talk about Jasmine. Who in that situation would not avail themselves of the opportunity to say Aliyah’s death was an accident?
“There are no points in bad-guy land for killing a kid or anywhere else for that matter. No one would pass up that opportunity unless it was not an accident.”
Taylor suggested the motive for murdering both was because Lovett found out Leeming was sexually abusing Sanderson. Coetzee-Khan testified Sanderson had a vaginal injury.
Der told Global News it was “pure speculation” and a “desperate move” on behalf of the prosecution to suggest that because there were “minor injuries” to the genital area, it constituted sexual assault.
Sanderson had a gasoline-soaked diaper, Taylor said, noting gas is corrosive — adding only a mechanic would know that — and could destroy DNA.
Leeming’s fate is in the hands of Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Keith Yamauchi.