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Matthew Darby sentenced to life in prison for killing Pitt student Alina Sheykhet

October 31, 2018 GMT

In order to save his own life, Matthew Darby pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for taking the life of his ex-girlfriend Alina Sheykhet.

The deal, accepted Wednesday by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, allowed Darby to avoid the death penalty, which prosecutors intended to seek had the case gone to trial.

Darby, 22, of Hempfield, killed Sheykhet in the predawn hours of Oct. 8, 2017, in her bedroom at her Cable Place apartment in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section. The body of Sheykhet, 20, a University of Pittsburgh student, was found by her parents and roommates that morning.

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Clad in a red Allegheny County Jail jumpsuit with a white long-sleeved shirt underneath, Darby spoke only to answer questions from Manning. Asked why he was pleading guilty, he answered, “Because I am guilty.”

Darby was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder.

Darby also pleaded guilty to burglary, theft, trespassing and possessing an instrument of crime in connection with Sheykhet’s killing. In a separate case in which he broke into Sheykhet’s apartment two weeks before the killing, Darby pleaded guilty to trespassing.

Prosecutors have said protection-from-abuse documents show Sheykhet said Darby was physically abusive and prone to fits of jealousy.

Darby was arrested in Myrtle Beach, S.C., three days after Sheykhet’s death after a resident reported a suspicious person prowling around a home. Police arrested Darby and discovered he was wanted on homicide charges in Pittsburgh.

In a previous court hearing, prosecutors introduced evidence that Darby had spent time the night of Oct. 7 and into the morning hours of Oct. 8 on the Duquesne University campus, where he had an interaction with university police Officer Raymond Marr. Darby asked directions to Brottier Hall, Marr said. Security cameras captured Darby at various points on the campus, including in the student union, which Marr allowed Darby to enter to charge his cellphone. He said Darby acted nervous and smelled vaguely of alcohol.

Hours later, shortly after 4 a.m., Darby called for an Uber, which took him from Brottier Hall to a street adjacent to Sheykhet’s home, a driver testified at the previous hearing.

Investigators collected surveillance footage they said shows Darby tossing items into a sewer near Semple Street near Sheykhet’s place. Pittsburgh police homicide Detective Edward Fallert said he and other officers found two knives and a hammer in the same sewer grate, the latter of which appeared to have hair and skin stuck to the claw portion.

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Darby had been set to plead guilty to charges of corruption of minors and simple assault in a separate case, the assault of a 17-year-old girl in Elizabeth Township less than a week before Sheykhet’s murder. A dispute arose, however, over the wording of the corruption of minors charge.

Deputy District Attorney Janet Necessary defined the charge as relating to sexual contact with a minor. Darby’s attorney, Thomas Farrell, said he had believed that the sexual connotation would be dropped as part of a plea agreement. Farrell said that detail is “extremely” important to his client.

Darby eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of simple assault in connection with the incident.

The victim in that case delivered a victim impact statement, saying that although she never knew Sheykhet, Sheykhet had given her strength.

“I consented to this plea agreement because we both know what he did to me,” she said.

She said the assault has inspired her go to college to study criminal justice, but it has left her afraid of new people and always on guard. She advised Darby to “get right with God.”

“It would be really hard to let a person like that walk through the gates of Heaven,” she said.