Alina’s Law: Slain Pitt student’s mom still fighting to save lives from domestic abuse

PITTSBURGH — Push renewed to pass ‘Alina’s Law’ to help protect victims of domestic violence

Between December and January, two women, Crystal Leschner and Rachel Dowden, were allegedly killed by men whom police say they had a history of domestic violence with.

“Our poor women keep getting murdered because of that law not being passed that could have saved a life,” said Elly Sheykhet, a mother who has been fighting to keep those who file protection from abuse orders (PFAs) safer.

“You turn all the pain and the grief into empowerment,” Sheykhet said.

She has lead a public charge on behalf of her daughter, Alina, going to all the court hearings for her daughter’s killer. Matthew Darby is spending the rest of his life in prison for killing his ex-girlfriend in October of 2017, just days after the Pitt student filed a PFA against him.

“She had that protection piece of paper sitting on her nightstand, I believe, and she felt safe,” said Sheykhet. “She felt protected.”

But Sheykhet says the protection system failed her daughter.

“Filing PFAs, going through hearings and going through the courthouse, and dealing with the police — not everything went nicely and smoothly,” said Sheykhet.

Less than a month after Alina’s murder, Sheykhet started her quest to fulfill her daughter’s wish.

“She said ‘Mom, if I only can have a chance to change the system. I would.’”

Elly and her husband, Yan, got behind a bill that would give judges the option of requiring electronic monitoring for people with PFAs against them, if judges believed they’d likely violate it.

Rep. Anita Kulik of Pennsylvania’s 45th Legislative District explained what she says that would do.

“It would give the victim a chance to stay safer, to make them be alerted if the defendant came within whatever radius of the GPS that they’re not supposed to be in,” such as places the victim lives, works at or frequents.

“This law will give judges the tool to physically protect the women,” said Sheykhet. “Alina didn’t have that protection.”

With the help of thousands of signatures on a petition, the Sheykhets were able to add their daughter’s name to the bill in 2017, named Alina’s Law. But nearly four-and-a-half years later, it’s still only a bill.

“Our women keep getting murdered, local people, and it really makes me mad,” Sheykhet said.

“How many do we have to have before we do something?” questioned Kulik.

The Democrat representing parts of Allegheny County is trying to get the bill passed for a third time.

The original bill that the Sheykhets supported in 2017 moved quickly through the Pennsylvania Senate, but stalled in the Pennsylvania House before the end of the two-year legislative session.

Kulik introduced it again in the House in 2019, but it didn’t get out of the judiciary committee.

In January 2021, Kulik found herself in the same spot again in Harrisburg, reintroducing the bill, but this time as a co-sponsor with Republican Rep. Natalie Mahalik.

“We did it together to show that there’s bipartisan support. There’s support from both sides from the women in the caucuses,” said Kulik.

More than a year later, the bill is sitting in the house judiciary committee.

“I have no explanation. No one has given me an explanation as to why it won’t be addressed,” said Kulik.

This month, she is working to amend the bill to include language that would give judges guidance for issuing monitoring if the defendant has been criminally charged.

In order for the bill to move to the House floor, Kulik says the majority chair of the judiciary committee has to schedule a public hearing about it.

“And again, we’re just waiting,” Kulik said.

The Sheykhets and their team of volunteers with Alina’s Light, the charitable organization formed in honor of Alina to bring awareness to domestic violence, have been calling and emailing state representatives to find out when the bill will move.

Channel 11 Anchor Jennifer Tomazic did the same.

She sent emails to Rep. Rob Kauffman, the majority chair of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee, through his state website. She also sent several emails through two email addresses she found for him. That was the suggestion she got when someone answered his phone in his Chambersburg office. None of her voicemails to that office or the one in Harrisburg were returned nor were her emails.

“The resolve of this family is amazing. If they’re going to stay resolved, I’m going to stay resolved,” said Rep. Kulik.

Because both the Sheykhets and Rep. Kulik see Alina’s Law as an important, extra layer of protection to victims of domestic violence.

“We didn’t have a chance to save Alina, but with this law we have a chance to save other lives,” said Sheykhet.

Two weeks ago, Alina’s Light started a new petition to get the attention of the Pennsylvania House. Click here for the petition.

The ACLU came out against the first bill proposed in the Pennsylvania Senate. We asked for comment on the newest version of it, but have not received a response.

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