Man serving life to get hearing in university student murder

January 4, 2022 GMT

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A man serving a life prison term in the 2017 slaying of a University of Pittsburgh student will get a hearing to try to persuade an appeals court that his attorney was ineffective.

Allegheny County prosecutors said now-25-year-old Matthew Darby used a claw hammer and two knives to kill 20-year-old Alina Sheykhet, his former girlfriend, in her off-campus apartment in October 2017. He fled and was captured in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Darby pleaded guilty to first-degree murder with prosecutors agreeing not to seek the death penalty. They had said earlier that capital punishment would be justified, citing among other things Darby’s history of felony convictions involving violence or violent threats and the victim’s protection-from-abuse order against him.

The Tribune-Review reports that a judge had ordered a hearing on Darby’s bid to have his former attorney deemed ineffective, but that judge went on medical leave and a new judge rejected such a hearing. The state Superior Court on Monday sided with Darby and said the hearing should be held.

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Darby’s new attorney, Joseph Hudak, said a first-degree murder plea should never have been allowed and he didn’t believe his client would ever have been sentenced to death in any case. He said he believed Darby was guilty of at most third-degree murder “and a jury might find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter.”

Mike Manko, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, said prosecutors are “confident of our position” since the defendant “pleaded guilty to a brutal crime that he obviously committed.” An attorney for the victim’s family said they believe the guilty plea and life sentence will remain intact.