Murdered by her own dad: Tragic story of Sabrina Lekaj

 

AS Sabrina Lekaj left her western suburbs home just after 9pm one Saturday night last July, she was in good spirits and ready to celebrate.

The striking, tall, dark-haired 20-year-old had just completed another set of tough third-year university exams and was looking forward to partying with her closest friends at her favourite Hindley St nightclub, the Dog and Duck.

As she walked out of her Kidman Park home, her mother, Romina, 43, looked up from the kitchen table and told her: "Take care of yourself."

Less than 24 hours later she was dead - murdered by her raging father Petrit Lekaj, 49, as she sat in the passenger seat of the white 2002 Mercedes Benz coupe her parents gave her for her 18th birthday.

The convicted heroin trafficker is today in isolation, and on suicide watch, in Yatala Labor Prison's high dependency unit after a Supreme Court judge jailed him.

 

Tragic murder victim Sabrina Lekaj. Picture: Facebook
Tragic murder victim Sabrina Lekaj. Picture: Facebook

 

But for his distraught wife of 24 years, who still regularly visits him in prison, and their 12-year-old son, Pyrrhus, life will never be the same as they sift through the shattered pieces of their life destroyed by depressingly common issues - our rampant drug epidemic and mental health problems.

 

HARDWORKING FAMILY

The Lekajs were a typical hardworking, aspiring middle-class family as they tried to make a new life within Adelaide's Albanian community.

They drove luxury Mercedes Benz cars, lived in a modern new home and were always impeccably presented.

Petrit Lekaj, a well-known builder and property developer, came to Australia nearly 30 years ago as a refugee after leaving Albania's political and economic upheaval.

The youngest of six siblings - five boys and a girl - he grew up in Muriqan before attending boarding school in the capital of Tirana.

Leaving school, he farmed for two years before moving to Virginia, north of Adelaide in 1992 despite speaking almost no English.

 

Petrit and Romina Lekaj in happier times. Picture: Facebook
Petrit and Romina Lekaj in happier times. Picture: Facebook

During a trip back home in 1993, he met his wife and the pair fell in love, marrying a year later and she moving to Australia in 1995.

But soon after her arrival their Australian dream turned into a living nightmare when Petrit turned to crime - a tragic "irony" given what would transpire on a cold winter's night more than 25 years later.

In August 1996, a District Court jury unanimously found him guilty of taking part in the sale of heroin, dismissing claims he acted as a "bodyguard" as a favour for an unidentified female friend.

He was sentenced to four years and six months in prison with a non-parole period of two years and six months.

An appeal was allowed and he eventually was ordered to serve at least two years in jail.

After his release, he and his wife started their family, welcoming a beautiful girl in The Queen Elizabeth Hospital on September 16, 1998, who was doted on and "spoiled".

Almost a decade later they had a son and the children were inseparable.

 

The Lekaj family. Picture: supplied
The Lekaj family. Picture: supplied

Now keen to go straight, in 1999 Petrit Lekaj started home renovations, which he slowly built into a lucrative small business.

His wife would help with the book work, painting and decorating.

The couple, however, had a volatile marriage as they struggled with no family support, arguing over "stupid things" such as money.

"My relationship with Petrit has been complicated and we have not always lived together," Romina told Western Adelaide CIB detectives last year.

"Moving out was a way to give each a break so that our marriage would survive."

As he battled cash flow problems in an unpredictable building cycle, Petrit returned to his criminal ways.

Court records show cannabis-related and ammunition convictions and fines in 2007 and 2009.

 

Petrit Lekaj and his wife had a volitile marriage. Picture Facebook
Petrit Lekaj and his wife had a volitile marriage. Picture Facebook

 

Sabrina’s brother Pyrrhus at her funeral. Photo: Tom Huntley.
Sabrina’s brother Pyrrhus at her funeral. Photo: Tom Huntley.

More than six months before killing his daughter, he stopped working as he began regularly feeling ill and battling deteriorating mental health.

"I couldn't do much, I was … trouble sleeping, for no particular reason. I started having stomach problems and heart swelling," he told forensic psychiatrist David Kutlaca in February this year.

Doctors found no underlying health problems.

Then, as his finances tightened, he moved back into the family's Kidman Park home two months before the murder, after selling his Flinders Park house 1.6km away.

It was a decision with tragic, far-reaching consequences.

 

LIFE OF THE PARTY

From an early age it was obvious that Sabrina was gifted.

On her first day of childcare she turned to her mother and said: "Don't pick me up until 3pm, OK?"

Always smiling, she had many friends, first at St Josephs Primary school, Hindmarsh and then Nazareth Senior College, Flinders Park.

Pyrrhus and Sabrina were inseperable. Picture: Tom Huntley
Pyrrhus and Sabrina were inseperable. Picture: Tom Huntley

 

Sabrina was a gifted student. Picture: Tom Huntley
Sabrina was a gifted student. Picture: Tom Huntley

 

Sabrina as a child. Picture: Tom Huntley
Sabrina as a child. Picture: Tom Huntley

"Overall I would describe Sabrina's relationship with her father as … good," her mother told police.

"When Sabrina was in school her father would drop her off and pick her up every day. I would say he had a better bond than I did."

An "above average" student, she would achieve a near-perfect Year 12 score of 99.35 with merits in biology and religion studies.

She was also a gifted pianist who excelled in her classical piano performance studies at Adelaide University.

Her mother recalled at her funeral - in which her incredible skills were on display through the speakers - how at the end of her first piano class she asked her teacher: "Can I come back tomorrow and the next day?"

She was in her third year of radiography at the University of South Australia and seemingly happy and content.

A popular woman and the "life of the party", she loved dancing, shopping, music and her friends. And like most Millennials, she documented her life on social media.

 

Sabrina Lekaj and her mother Romina. Picture: supplied
Sabrina Lekaj and her mother Romina. Picture: supplied

But dark clouds were brewing.

She rebelled against her strict parents, who like most set boundaries, for example in this case a 2am curfew.

According to prosecutors her use of "controlled substances" increased before her death.

In her witness statement, her mother lays bare mounting frustrations at the changes in her daughter's behaviour and a "distinct" personality shift.

She ignored curfews, lost weight, locked herself in her room, became angry and blew her savings. She told friends of mounting problems at home.

"Over the past few months, Sabrina started coming home later when she would go out," her mother told police.

"I confronted her about it and we would argue. I tried to reason with Sabrina because I was worried that she was neglecting the studies but she took the position that I was being too hard on her.
"It did not make any difference because after I spoke to Sabrina about coming home earlier she came home later.

 

 

Tension was mounting between mother and daughter. Picture: Facebook
Tension was mounting between mother and daughter. Picture: Facebook

"Recently Sabrina had been coming home at 6am and 7am after going out at night. Sometimes she would not come home (at) all and would send a message to say she was staying at her friend's house."

Sabrina had saved more than $16,000 but days before her death her card was declined due to "insufficient funds" as she shopped with her brother.

"As a result of constantly having to argue with Sabrina … I have basically given up trying to get (her) to come home early and I stopped nagging her to recommit to her studies," Romina told police.

"Simply I was at a point where I was sick of arguing."

Even her "calmer" husband failed to reason with Sabrina to come home earlier and better apply herself to her studies.

 

A FATAL FIGHT

Sabrina arrived at the Dog and Duck just after 1am on Sunday and spent the next two hours partying while high on cocaine and methamphetamine, or ice.

Friends told police she had also bought ecstasy and taken 15 Xanax anti-anxiety pills.

She later caught an Uber with best friend Kat Valstar, 22, but they called police over concerns with the driver.

Officers spoke to them at 4.40am on Anzac Highway but they concluded no assault had occurred and took them home.

At 5.45am Sabrina messaged her mother that she was staying with Ms Valstar.

Later that morning she left as her "bubbly self" with her last words: "I love you, I'll message you when I get home." She never did.

 

Sabrina Lekaj and friend Kat Valstar. Picture: supplied
Sabrina Lekaj and friend Kat Valstar. Picture: supplied

 

While the exact details remain unclear, Sabrina hit two cars while drug driving but failed to stop.

She arrived home at 1.30pm as her parents worked in their back garden and immediately went to her room.

But at 2.40pm, four police officers rang the door bell as they investigated reports of a crash involving a white Mercedes Benz, which was parked in the driveway with "minor damage" to the passenger side and front bumper.

Her father went to wake her but quickly returned, panicked by her being unresponsive and urged police to call an ambulance.

They woke her, and after denying taking drugs, they took her to the QEH for tests.

She confessed to her distraught parents driving home that she had taken cocaine.

Police had noticed her father "shocked and upset" but he later ignored sympathetic officers' assurances that thankfully no one had been hurt.

During a rambling confession to detectives at the secure James Nash house on August 5 2019, Petrit told how he then secretly took a green 15cm kitchen knife in the bizarre hope of "scaring" his daughter out of her rebellious ways.

 

 

Petrit Lekaj had battled mental health problems. Picture: Facebook
Petrit Lekaj had battled mental health problems. Picture: Facebook

At 7.30pm, she went to drive to Hungry Jacks on Tapleys Hill Rd, Fullham, but her father instead drove.

He turned off Grange Rd and into a side street where they furiously fought in her car. He accused her of disrespect and she yelled she "didn't give a s..t".

When he pulled his knife, she yelled: "You're a f…ing idiot." He later told police: "It's not the way to live, no way that's completely … outrageous. She threw away, she threw away everything … cause she hit people in the car and she didn't stop. She threw away her future … in my mind."

As she looked out the window, Petrit snapped, stabbing his defenceless daughter in the abdomen.

In harrowing evidence, much of it too graphic to publish, his daughter screamed for help and desperately kicked the windows to flee the wanton violence.

 

 

The Lekaj family’s life has been destroyed. Brother Pyrrhus being comforted by mother Romina and grandmother. Picture: Tom Huntley
The Lekaj family’s life has been destroyed. Brother Pyrrhus being comforted by mother Romina and grandmother. Picture: Tom Huntley

After knocking the knife away, her father climbed out of the luxury vehicle, and into the back seat after which he restrained her and stabbed her another seven times.

"I didn't see her as just at the moment," he told police.

"I saw her (as) she's some … evil person, you know and I didn't have a connection."

Sensing the gravity of his crimes, he drove slowly home.

His now worried wife had rung several times and when he finally answered he said: "Call the police, I'm sorry."

As a large-scale search was launched, he told his wife: "I've done a terrible thing."

They were found inside the heavily bloodstained car at 11.30pm just 250m from the family home, her lifeless body inside.

 

 

The white Mercedes in which Petrit Lekaj stabbed his daughter Sabrina at Kidman Park. Picture 7 NEWS
The white Mercedes in which Petrit Lekaj stabbed his daughter Sabrina at Kidman Park. Picture 7 NEWS

He had also stabbed himself. "In those few moments you simultaneously destroyed your life as well as Sabrina's," Justice Trish Kelly told him this week as she jailed him for a minimum 20 years.

Neither Sabrina's mother nor brother gave victim impact statements.

Justice Kelly said of their rare decision: "I draw no inference from the lack of victim impact statements in this matter. In the circumstances, it is not wholly unexpected."

After sobbing in the public gallery, outside court the mother revealed her ongoing conflicting emotions.

"I just would like to say that this is a family tragedy, a family destroyed by the incompetence of our doctors to diagnose mental illness (on my husband's side) and the drug epidemic engulfing our state, where even our smartest kids are falling prey to it," she said.

"I hope this is a wake up for to save some other family."

 

IF YOU'RE EXPERIENCING FAMILY VIOLENCE, CALL 1800 RESPECT

Romina Lekaj, (L) leaves court with an unidentified supporter Tuesday March 3, 2020. Picture: Mike Burton / AAP Photo.
Romina Lekaj, (L) leaves court with an unidentified supporter Tuesday March 3, 2020. Picture: Mike Burton / AAP Photo.
The Nazareth School band in 2014 with Sabrina Lekaj, 16, in foreground. Picture. Noelle Bobrige
The Nazareth School band in 2014 with Sabrina Lekaj, 16, in foreground. Picture. Noelle Bobrige
Sabrina was a popular and bright student. Picture: supplied
Sabrina was a popular and bright student. Picture: supplied
She was considered the life of the party. Picture supplied
She was considered the life of the party. Picture supplied
Friends said she loved being in front of the camera. Picture: supplied
Friends said she loved being in front of the camera. Picture: supplied
Sabrina Lekaj in happier times. Picture: Supplied by family
Sabrina Lekaj in happier times. Picture: Supplied by family
Petrit Lekaj who murdered his daughter Sabrina in 2019 during his interview with Western Adelaide CIB detectives. Picture SA Police
Petrit Lekaj who murdered his daughter Sabrina in 2019 during his interview with Western Adelaide CIB detectives. Picture SA Police