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Crown, defence present closing arguments in Calgary court for Leeming murder trial

Click to play video: 'Fate of accused murderer Robert Leeming now in hands of judge' Fate of accused murderer Robert Leeming now in hands of judge
WATCH: Closing arguments were heard Tuesday at the trial of Robert Leeming. He has pleaded guilty to murdering Jasmine Lovett and not guilty to killing Aliyah Sanderson. Leeming's defence lawyer suggested a lack of evidence should raise reasonable doubt about his guilt but the Crown prosecutor suggested a motive for killing both the mother and daughter. Jill Croteau reports – Nov 2, 2021

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.

Read more: Defence wraps case in Robert Leeming murder trial

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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.”

Kim Blankert, Jasmine Lovett’s mom, speaks outside the Calgary Courts Centre on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Kaylen Small/Global News

‘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.

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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.”

Read more: Calgary medical examiner testifies ‘very unlikely’ Aliyah Sanderson died in accidental fall

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.

“The blunt object that we speak about could be a stair or stairs plural,” he said. “[Dr. Akmal Coetzee-Khan] also acknowledged that a fall down stairs does not necessarily have to cause injuries to the limbs.”

Read more: Defence wraps case in Robert Leeming murder 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?

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“[The prosecution is] saying that Mr. Leeming deliberately struck the child in the head — three times, apparently. It’s interesting in their argument, they say nothing about the injury to the back,” he said.

“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.”

Click to play video: 'Robert Leeming testified he took steps to hide deaths of Jasmine Lovett, Aliyah Sanderson' Robert Leeming testified he took steps to hide deaths of Jasmine Lovett, Aliyah Sanderson
Robert Leeming testified he took steps to hide deaths of Jasmine Lovett, Aliyah Sanderson – Oct 28, 2021

Crown prosecutor Doug Taylor said a fall does not fit forensic evidence and “defies logic.”

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Leeming’s demeanour

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.”

Read more: Trial hears steps Calgary man says he took to cover up deaths of girlfriend and her daughter

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.

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“While this man is guilty of the death of Ms. Lovett, he is not guilty of Aliyah Sanderson’s death.”

Twenty-two-month-old Aliyah Sanderson and her mother Jasmine Lovett, 25, are shown in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Calgary Police Service

‘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.

Read more: Calgary murder suspect Robert Leeming testifies he had nothing to do with toddler’s death

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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.

“As if he had just erased Jasmine and Aliyah, the accused set out to try and lead his life, seemingly like nothing had happened. He dated [Kathleen] Jukes, ordered pizza with Jasmine’s bank card and smoked cannabis.”
Robert Leeming throws out garbage in his Calgary condo complex on April 18, 2019. Court exhibit

Committing ‘murder to get away with a murder’

Taylor called Leeming a liar, saying his testimony was “malleable and fluid.”

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“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.”

Read more: Murder suspect deleted texts, photos the day Calgary mother, daughter reported missing: court

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.”

Click to play video: 'Accused Calgary murderer testifies he didn’t kill 22-month-old toddler' Accused Calgary murderer testifies he didn’t kill 22-month-old toddler
Accused Calgary murderer testifies he didn’t kill 22-month-old toddler – Oct 27, 2021

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.

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Read more: Leeming trial hears how accused murderer led undercover officers to bodies of Calgary mother, daughter

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.

Click to play video: 'Leeming trial hears how accused murderer led undercover officers to bodies of Calgary mother and daughter' Leeming trial hears how accused murderer led undercover officers to bodies of Calgary mother and daughter
Leeming trial hears how accused murderer led undercover officers to bodies of Calgary mother and daughter – Oct 21, 2021

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.

Read more: Undercover officer says Calgary murder suspect Robert Leeming led them to site where mother, daughter were buried

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“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.”

Read more: Medical examiner describes deaths of Jasmine Lovett, Aliyah Sanderson at Calgary murder trial

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.

Read more: Man accused of murdering Calgary mom, toddler in 2019 enters guilty plea to one count

Leeming’s fate is in the hands of Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Keith Yamauchi.

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