Trespassing charge didn’t get suspect’s bond revoked before killing
If officials 50 miles apart had communicated and asked more questions, Matthew Darby might have been in jail in early October.
Instead, he faces a homicide charge after his ex-girlfriend Alina Sheykhet, 20, was found dead Sunday in the same Oakland apartment he was charged with illegally entering less than three weeks before.
A computer-generated notice that could have prompted a conversation, and possibly incarceration, instead resulted in little or no coordination between Indiana County and Allegheny County.
“This case is sort of Exhibit A in the argument for more granularity, more detail” in the information that flows from one criminal justice office to another, said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and host of the Criminal (In)Justice Podcast.
“That wouldn’t necessarily have had to move the individuals into
action,” he added. “But anything that would have filled in the picture better, you can see how that might have informed a better set of decisions.”
Arrested Wednesday in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Mr. Darby is charged with homicide, burglary, fleeing, theft and possessing instruments of a crime. Ms. Sheykhet’s body was found Sunday morning. Her cell phone showed five unanswered calls from his number, in close succession. According to a police affidavit, surveillance video shows Mr. Darby dropping something in an Oakland sewer grate, where detectives found a claw hammer and knives.
Mr. Darby’s file in the Indiana County Courthouse includes the accusation that in February, the 21-year-old Greensburg man cajoled his way into a different ex-girlfriend's bedroom after placing 33 phone calls to her, by claiming he “wanted to talk and apologize for things in the past.” Once in the room, the ex-girlfriend told police, he forced her into several sex acts.
After brief incarceration in Indiana on rape and other charges, he was freed on $10,000 bond, with conditions including no contact with the victim and supervision by a probation officer. Anyone on bond in the state also is told to “refrain from criminal activity” or risk bond revocation, which means jail until trial.
While Mr. Darby’s case in Indiana was postponed twice — first at the request of the prosecution, then at the request of the defense — he became the subject of eerily similar accusations in Pittsburgh.
Ms. Sheykhet, according to a petition for a restraining order she filed on Sept. 21, had “left him” and “stopped answering his phone calls.” On Sept. 20, he climbed up the gutter and broke into her apartment on Cable Place, via a window, she wrote.
She was awakened when her bedroom door swung open, a Pittsburgh police officer wrote based on Ms. Sheykhet’s account. “Darby stated that he just wanted to talk,” she told the officer. Confronted by her roommates, Mr. Darby left and drove away, according to the officer’s affidavit.
Police charged Mr. Darby with criminal trespass, and again he was freed on $10,000 bond. Pennsylvania law requires that bond be set at a level meant to ensure the defendant’s attendance at court hearings, and shouldn’t be punitive. It can, however, take into account any prior criminal record.
The similarities in the allegations — repeated ignored phone calls, a purported desire to “talk,” entry into a reluctant ex-girlfriend’s bedroom — stand out in retrospect. But apparently, no one in either county knew the details of the allegations made against Mr. Darby in the other county.
In the affidavit written by the Pittsburgh officer who responded to the Cable Place incident, there’s no indication that the officer checked whether Mr. Darby had prior or pending criminal charges.
Arrestedand jailed briefly Sept. 26, Mr. Darby almost certainly went through a bond evaluation.
Allegheny County Pretrial Services interviews everyone jailed on new charges in Pittsburgh and then recommends conditions for release.
It’s unclear whether that unit noticed the rape charge. Pretrial services director Janice Dean was not available for an interview Wednesday or Thursday, and detailed questions sent to that office were not addressed Thursday.
If pretrial services saw the rape case, it didn’t tell Allegheny County prosecutors. They did not become aware of the rape case “until Pittsburgh police found out about it after the homicide,” according to Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.
The filing of the trespassing charge in Allegheny County triggered a computerized “hit notification” to the probation officer involved with Mr. Darby’s rape case, said Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty. That came through the Justice Network, or JNET, a staterun computer system that allows various law enforcement agencies to peruse each others’ information.
JNET, however, provides only the criminal charge — in this case, criminal trespass. If a probation officer or prosecutor wants the details, they have to reach out to the other county.
Michael Hodak, director of the Indiana County Probation Office, said that JNET notices only have “the general information, just the charge,” and that the notification would have been one of “probably several dozen” the office would receive in a given day.
“You could almost see [someone thinking], ‘ Oh, trespassing, that could be nothing,’ ” said Mr. Harris. Add some details, and that thinking might have been different. “Certainly next to a rape charge, trespassing at an ex-girlfriend’s place could be a concern.”
The filing of the trespassing charge “could have been a sufficient basis for a revocation of bond,” he said. “This would at least be enough, where I used to practice, for them to haul you back to court and say, ‘ What the heck? What happened?’ ”
Mr. Dougherty said that in Indiana County, when a defendant under pretrial supervision is charged with a new crime, any decision on revoking bond usually waits until the new case goes to a preliminary hearing.
That hasn’t yet happened in Mr. Darby’s trespassing case.
Mr. Harris said there’s no legal reason to delay such a decision. “You don’t need to wait until there is a preliminary hearing to ask whether the conditions of bond have been met.”
Mr. Darby continued to comply with the requirements of the Indiana County courts by showing up for a required Oct. 6 appearance. At that appearance, no one asked Mr. Darby about the trespassing charge, said Dianna Rostis, the assistant office manager for Mr. Dougherty.
“We don’t ask about any other charges in any other county,” she said, adding that the rape case was then scheduled for trial in November.
In some states, communication between law enforcement agencies is still handled largely on paper, said Veronica Cunningham, executive director of the American Probation and Parole Association. But other jurisdictions allow law enforcement to immediately view summaries of cases filed in other counties, providing more than just the bare charges.
Mr. Manko said that Mr. Zappala “has been exploring a number of avenues, including those involving the Legislature, to substantially impact how law enforcement and the courts deal with individuals who violate the conditions of theirbond.
“This is especially relevant in cases involving domestic violence and intimate partner violence.”