Insurance benefit ruling sheds light on Desmond tragedy

HALIFAX: A recent Supreme Court ruling on the beneficiary of a life insurance policy has shed some light on the events of a tragic 2017 triple murder suicide.

Cpl. Lionel Desmond, a former rifleman with the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment’s India Company, suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, shot and killed his wife Shanna, his 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah, his mother Brenda, before turning the gun on himself in their Upper Big Tracadie home.

The issue before the court was who should benefit from the life insurance policy Lionel Desmond had with the Canadian Military’s Service Income Security Insurance Plan.

Lionel’s mother Brenda was named as the beneficiary of the insurance policy. But if Lionel outlived his mother, the insurance policy would be passed to the contingent beneficiary, Greg MacEachern.

In his decision released June 24, Nova Scotia Supreme Justice Nick Scaravelli declared the Estate of Brenda Desmond the proper recipient of the proceeds of the life insurance property.

The evidence provided to Scaravelli details the timeline of the events that took place on Jan. 3, 2017.

Indicated in his decision, Lionel went to Leaves and Limbs Sport Store, a hunting and fishing outfitter in Antigonish County at 4:00 p.m. and left approximately 45-minutes later after purchasing a rifle and ammunition.

He travelled 42-kilometres to his cousin’s house in Lincolnville, where he had been staying and later drove his vehicle to a logging road close to the residence.

At 4:19 p.m. Chantel, Lionel’s sister, received a phone call from Aaliyah asking for a ride to an afterschool program, and Chantel advised she would be there sometime after 5:00 p.m.

She arrived shortly after 6:00 p.m. and discovered the bodies of Lionel and Shanna on the kitchen floor. She dialed 911 at 6:03 p.m. and found the bodies of Brenda and Aaliyah as well; RCMP officers were on-scene by 6:20 p.m.

George Desmond, Brenda’s brother, received a call from her not any earlier than 6:00 p.m. asking him to get to the house as quick as he could stating “the boy just shot his wife.”

Dr. Sangita Sharma, a coroner from Ontario reviewed the autopsies performed on the Desmond family, and concluded Lionel shot himself in the head and died instantly, whereas Brenda was shot in the back and died slower from blood loss.

“Based on the wounds sustained by Brenda Desmond and Lionel Desmond, it is my medical opinion, based on the balance of probabilities that Brenda Desmond would have succumbed to her injuries after Lionel Desmond.”

Based on those findings, Scaravelli was satisfied on a preponderance of evidence that Lionel died instantly and Brenda didn’t.

“The extent of the wounds suffered to Lionel Desmond’s head indicates that death was instantaneous,” he ruled. “The wound to Brenda Desmond’s back caused her to die from blood loss and respiratory failure due to the accumulation of blood in her lungs.”

Scaravelli concluded the killings took place in a very short time line, between approximately 6:00 p.m. and 6:03 p.m., with Lionel first shooting Shanna.

“Based on the evidence I find the logical inference is that Brenda, Aalyiah and Lionel were shot in sequence at approximately the same time,” he said. “And that it is more probable than not, that Lionel Desmond predeceased Brenda Desmond.”