Tres­pass­ing charge didn’t get sus­pect’s bond re­voked be­fore killing

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page - By Rich Lord

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.”

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