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'We got justice': Man who killed girlfriend also found guilty in her toddler's death

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CALGARY — A judge has found a man who admitted to murdering his former girlfriend guilty of killing her young daughter as well. 

Robert Leeming, 37, had pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of Jasmine Lovett, but not guilty in the death of 22-month-old Aliyah Sanderson. 

Leeming testified he was looking after Aliyah in May 2019, when she fell down some stairs in his Calgary home. When he checked on her later, he found her limp and unresponsive, he said. 

He said he snapped when Lovett accused him of doing something to her child and he struck the woman several times with a hammer before shooting her in the head with a rifle.

Court of Queen's Justice Keith Yamauchi said Leeming was not a believable witness and convicted him of second-degree murder in the child's death. 

"This court does not believe his explanation of how Aliyah died," the judge said in his decision Monday. "It does not believe his evidence." 

Yamauchi said the reason for Leeming's "murderous rampage" on Lovett "defies logic" and there was no doubt that Leeming caused the injuries which led to the girl dying. 

"Her injuries were not accidental. He meant to cause Aliyah's death or meant to cause bodily harm to Aliyah that was likely to cause her death," the judge said. 

"Why would he not use his best efforts to find Aliyah help? Instead he went downstairs for a cigarette." 

Yamauchi said he isn't sure why Leeming killed the girl. He said it appeared to have happened after her mother was already dead.

"This court does not know with any precision the exact time Mr. Leeming assaulted Aliyah; however, it has found beyond a reasonable doubt he did."

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

A sentencing date for Leeming is to be set Feb. 11.

The victims' family members were in the courtroom for the verdict.

"Very relieved. I think I held my breath the whole time," said Lovett's mother and Aliyah's grandmother, Kim Blankert, outside court.

"I wanted to get up and hug the judge but I know that would have looked super weird. Obviously happy is not the best word. but (we're) pleased that we got justice and relieved that it's over. We can just go back to healing and just getting on with our lives."

Jodi Sanderson, Aliyah's paternal grandmother, said she was worried about the verdict after sitting through most of the trial.

"His actions and demeanour were nothing but disturbing," she said.

"There was a little concern there."

Crown prosecutor Doug Taylor said he hopes the verdict brings the family some peace.

"We're thinking of them and we hope that today is a day that they can feel like justice has been served."

Taylor said it's difficult to try a case involving a young child's death.

"It's impossible for it to leave your mind, the magnitude of what you're dealing with."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2022. 

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press