PITTSBURGH — The man convicted of brutally killing a University of Pittsburgh student ultimately dropped his fight to have the case reconsidered during a rollercoaster of events Tuesday.
Matthew Darby had previously filed a post-conviction relief petition, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel.
That petition came about one year after he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the 2017 death of his ex-girlfriend, Alina Sheykhet. As part of the deal, prosecutors agreed they wouldn’t seek the death penalty, but Darby would serve a life sentence.
A county judge had denied Darby’s petition, but he appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which ruled in his favor, granting him a hearing in Allegheny County.
At the start of that proceeding on Tuesday, Darby’s new attorney, Joseph Hudak, informed the court that as of that morning, his client had decided to withdraw the petition, after “pressure” from “outside sources.”
But after learning that the choice to withdraw would indefinitely eliminate his opportunity to fight the case at the state level, Darby had a change of heart, and elected to begin the hearing.
His former attorney, Thomas Farrell, was first and ultimately last to take the stand.
“Mr. Darby called the shots,” Farrell told the courtroom, in respect to the plea agreement.
Farrell began to tell the courtroom that Darby had requests from his counsel, including his desire to avoid having to testify and view photographs of the crime scene
Within minutes, Darby interrupted the proceeding, and after a brief discussion with Hudak, he again elected to withdraw the petition.
“I don’t believe that Mr. Darby was prepared for my testimony,” Farrell told Channel 11 after the proceeding. “Post-conviction counsel should have advised him that I would be testifying, and attorney-client privilege would be waived, and everything that he told me would have been on record, and I think that was a concern for Mr. Darby.”
Farrell maintained that he “effectively represented,” Darby, noting that prosecutors had a “very strong case” for a death sentence.
Hudak, however, told Channel 11 that with his representation, Darby might have had a shot at being convicted on lesser charges, specifically third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
But others with knowledge of the case and the extensive amount of evidence against Darby claim that never would have occurred.
“It clearly was not a third-degree murder case... voluntary manslaughter had nothing to do with this case,” Farrell told us. “Anybody who says that really doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”
Darby’s decision to withdraw the petition essentially prevents him from appealing the conviction at the state level again.
Bob Del Greco, the private attorney representing the Sheykhet family, told Channel 11 that the outcome provides closure.
“It’s been torturous, it’s meandered, it’s been sinuous, it’s had many turns,” Del Greco said. “Hopefully, it is terminated today. Mr. Darby will now serve his sentence.”
“We don’t want to come back to this court,” the victim’s father told us. “We just want to be sure he’s going to stay where he’s supposed to be.”
Hudak told Channel 11 he respects his client’s decision.
“I think he has all sorts of mixed emotions,” the defense attorney said.
The victim’s family questions if remorse is among those emotions. Alina’s mother, Elly Sheykhet, said she heard him mutter an apology.
“I was really shocked,” she said. “He apologized... I’m not sure if he really meant that and we need to process that... He said it, clear, ‘I apologize.’”
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