Murderer of Pitt student Alina Sheykhet pleads guilty
Matthew Darby got life without parole
Matthew Darby, the student accused of killing his ex-girlfriend Alina Sheykhet last year, has pleaded guilty. He faced the death penalty for first-degree murder, and took a deal to save his life. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Darby, 22, murdered Alina in the early hours of October 8th 2017. She had been a junior at Pitt, majoring in physical therapy, and had dated Darby until September. After she ended their relationship, he broke into her house by climbing up the gutter and coming in through the second floor window. "He did this because I left him and stopped answering his phone calls," Alina told cops after that incident. Describing prior incidents of abuse, she wrote: "Grabbing, pushing, emotional abuse, jealousy, controlling."
Two weeks later, she was dead.
The night before she was found dead, Alina came home from a late shift at work, and hung out with her roommate Zach Brandner, also a Pitt student. They chatted and took a selfie, the last photo of her alive.
"We all said goodnight and said 'I love you' like we did every night and she went up to bed," Zach told us in an interview last year. "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."
Sunday morning the next day, just before 9 AM, Alina's parents arrived at her house. Elly and Yan – Alina's mom and dad – had planned to go for a charity walk at a nearby park. They were the ones who found her body.
Zach will never forget what happened. He said Alina's mom Elly started knocking on her door, but heard no answer. "This went on for five minutes, and it started getting really loud," Zach said. "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 get her husband Yan, who came inside and broke down his daughter's door. Then they looked inside. "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."
Zach ran upstairs and looked into Alina's bedroom. "It was horrifying. 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."
Matthew Darby became a suspect shortly after. It would later emerge at a hearing that on the night Alina died, Darby hung out at Duquesne University campus, where he tried to meet up with a friend. While there, he spoke to a college police officer, who later testified that he acted nervous and smelled of alcohol. He then took an Uber to an intersection near Alina's home.
Security cameras filmed Darby dumping knives and a claw hammer covered with hair and skin in a sewer near Alina's house. Her phone was recovered on I-76, a highway 25 miles away from her home. Records showed Darby had called her five times between 4:15 and 4:55 AM. He was found three days after her death in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where police arrested him for apparently tampering with a window.
When we spoke to Zach, he remembered a number of incidents that left him worried about Alina's relationship with Darby. On one occasion in September 2017, he screamed at her for "20 minutes" outside their house, Zach recalled.
"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 pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, burglary, theft, trespassing, and possessing an instrument of crime. As part of his deal, he also pleaded guilty to two counts of simple assault in relation to an unrelated incident of sexual contact with a minor.