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Medical examiner describes deaths of mother, toddler at Calgary murder trial

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CALGARY — A Calgary mother who was found buried along with her young daughter in a shallow grave two years ago was beaten and shot in the head, a forensic pathologist testified Friday at a second-degree murder trial.

Jasmine Lovett and 22-month-old Aliyah Sanderson were reported missing in April 2019. 

The next month, police found their bodies in a day-use area in Kananaskis Country, west of Calgary. 

Robert Leeming, a 36-year-old British citizen, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Lovett but not guilty to second-degree murder in the child's death. 

Deputy medical examiner Dr. Akmal Coetzee-Khan described his findings Friday through a series of autopsy photos.

He said Lovett had three separate fractures on her skull, which would have required a significant amount of force, including a crack that extended down to the base of her skull.

"They are significant enough to cause death," he said.

Coetzee-Khan said there was also a gunshot wound behind Lovett's left ear and two bullet fragments were removed.

He said a bullet hitting the brain stem would have caused instantaneous death, so the amount of blood in the fracture wounds suggests the blunt force trauma happened earlier.

"The most likely scenario is that the blunt force trauma occurred first and then the firearm injuries were afterward," Coetzee-Khan added.

Photos showed the tiny body of Aliyah Sanderson wearing pink pajama bottoms, a diaper and a pink T-shirt that read "I heart hugs". Both bodies had been wrapped in blankets.

Coetzee-Khan said the girl died of blunt force traumatic injuries to the head and had abrasions on the side of her face and neck. He said Sanderson experienced bleeding in the brain and she would have likely succumbed within three to six hours from her injuries without medical treatment.

He also told the court that both victims smelled strongly of gasoline.

"Even with my face mask on at the time, there was this very, very strong smell of gas that was present. This smell was quite overwhelming, probably one of the strongest gasoline smells I've encountered during my 13 years working in the field of forensics," he said.

A police forensics officer testified earlier this week that there was a strong smell of gasoline or a solvent where the bodies were found.

Lovett and her daughter were last seen on a grocery store video on April 15, 2019. 

Weeks later, Leeming told undercover officers the location of their bodies. 

He had indicated to police that he and Lovett had been in a relationship.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2021.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press