The murder of Alina Sheykhet: What you need to know about the upcoming trial

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The murder of Alina Sheykhet: What you need to know about the upcoming trial

She was found dead – and her ex-boyfriend was charged with criminal homicide

Alina Sheykhet never finished fall semester. The junior was studying at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in physical therapy, when she was found dead in her student apartment. She had blunt force trauma wounds around her head – a claw hammer and knives were found near her home. Alina was 20.

Her ex-boyfriend, Matthew Darby, was charged with her murder and faces a trial this summer, set to begin July 30. It is a trial that could result in the death penalty. Allegheny County, PA prosecutors are pushing for it, citing additional charges such as burglary, possession of instruments of crime with intent, theft and flight to avoid apprehension. After Alina's death, Darby was found 600 miles away in Myrtle Beach, SC.

With the trial on the horizon, here's what you need to know about the case of Alina Sheykhet.

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Alina Sheykhet

Alina's last night

The night began like any other. Alina came home around midnight on October 7th 2017, after a late shift at work. She chatted to her rommate, Zach Brandner, also a student. They hung out and posed for a selfie – her last photo alive.

"We all said goodnight and said 'I love you' like we did every night and she went up to bed," Zach told The Tab. "A couple minutes later, Alina texted me the picture we had just taken. That was the last I heard from her. The next morning she was gone."

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The last photo of Alina Sheykhet alive

The next morning

Alina's mom, Elly, and dad, Yan, came to pick up their daughter early the next day. They had planned to go on a charity walk in the park nearby, and came by the house around 8:45 AM. Elly knocked on her daughter's bedroom door but heard no answer.

"This went on for five minutes, and it started getting really loud," Zach remembered. "She started shaking the door. You could tell she was starting to get a bit scared, like this wasn't normal. [Their] dog was barking uncontrollably."

Elly came downstairs to fetch her husband, who came inside and broke down his daughter's door. What they saw inside made them scream.

"Her parents were screaming at the top of their lungs saying 'Alina's dead, Alina's dead,'" Zach said. "It got hard to understand, they started speaking in Russian. It was horrible. They said it looked like her face had been cut off."

He ran upstairs and looked inside. He described the sight as "horrifying," and said he couldn't look for long. "There are no words to describe what I saw. She was just laying there with her arms spread out. The whole side of her face was unrecognizable – you could barely recognize it was a face, it was so bashed in. She was laying in a pool of her own blood."

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Zach Brandner and Alina

A suspect emerges

Matthew Darby, Alina's ex-boyfriend, was named as the main suspect in the wake of her death. Police say he took a taxi from Duquesne University, where he tried to meet a friend, then to an intersection close to Alina's home. He asked the driver to wait for 10 minutes, and then after he didn't return, asked him to wait another 10. The taxi couldn't wait any longer and drove away.

Police said they believed Darby killed her and tried to hide the murder weapons. He was seen on security cameras dropping knives and a claw hammer in a nearby drain.

Alina's cell phone was found discarded on I-76, a highway around 25 miles away from her home. Records showed Darby called her five times between 4:15 and 4:55 AM. Darby was next heard from in Myrtle Beach, where police picked him up for allegedly tampering with a window.

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Matthew Darby

Alina's trouble with her ex

This was not the first time Darby was reported for breaking into his ex-girlfriend's home. Two weeks before her death, she filed a police report to say he climbed up the gutter on the side of her house and came in through the second floor window.

"He did this because I left him and stopped answering his phone calls," Alina told cops. Describing prior incidents of abuse, she wrote: "Grabbing, pushing, emotional abuse, jealousy, controlling."

In his interview, Zach recalled a number of incidents that left him worried about Alina's relationship with Darby, including one in September where he saw him scream at her for "20 minutes" outside their home.

"If she liked a picture of a guy on Instagram, he would go and unlike it because he had her social media passwords," Zach said. "This was before they broke up, she changed them when she broke up with him. He would never let her wear clothes that could be considered too sexy-looking. He was extremely, extremely controlling."

The night before she died, Alina texted Zach and mentioned how she had been granted a restraining order against Darby, known in Pennsylvania as a PFA. It said: "I can't believe Matthew wasn't given this PFA sooner. He could have come to my house and done something to me. I'm so thankful he didn't hurt me."

Darby was arrested last year on separate charges of rape in another county. That case continues, as does a charge of assaulting jail guards.

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