Most fathers want the very best for their daughters and Petrit Lekaj seemed no different.
Everyone thought Sabrina, 20, was the apple of his eye. Beautiful, intelligent and kind, she was popular but also hardworking and had a bright future ahead of her.
The university student still lived at home with her dad, mum Romina and her 11-year-old brother in Adelaide, Australia. The family were well-known in the local Albanian community and lived a privileged life in suburban Kidman Park.
Petrit, 49, was a property developer and his wife of 24 years was also in real estate.
Sabrina was a top student – she’d graduated from the exclusive Nazareth Catholic College with an impressive score of 99.35 and was accepted into the University of South Australia to study classical piano and medical radiology.
The talented young woman also had lots of friends and was the life of any party. Glamorous social media pictures of her, posing in designer clothes with her long dark hair and striking looks, showed she loved dressing up and going out.
But it was something causing a great deal of tension in the family home.
Sabrina complained to friends that her dad was extremely controlling, and she was desperate to move out. Lekaj didn’t like her having friends over and even stopped her talking to them on the phone in the evening – insisting she should be studying.
He also constantly asked Sabrina whether she had a boyfriend as it was something he disapproved of. But her dad especially hated that Sabrina was partying, drinking alcohol and even experimenting with drugs.
She was known to have taken cocaine and ecstasy while out at the weekends. No one believed it to be anything more than recreational.
It was ironic for Lekaj to judge his daughter, to say the least. Lekaj had drug-related convictions going back years. He had spent over four years in prison for his involvement in selling heroin and later he had been fined and convicted for charges relating to cultivating cannabis crops.
The offences were in his past but perhaps they were coming back to haunt him now that Sabrina was past teen years and trying to break away from her controlling family, breaking curfews and taking illegal substances.
On July 20, 2019, it was a Saturday night and Sabrina went to a local nightclub with friends where she took cocaine, ecstasy and Xanax and partied into the early hours.
After staying at a friend’s house, she returned home the following day around lunchtime. There was tension between Sabrina and her dad when he found damage on her car.
Lekaj had called the police saying Sabrina had caused the damage while under the influence of drugs, but officers responded by telling him that ‘everyone was OK and no one had been seriously hurt’.
No charges were brought but it had caused even more of a division between father and daughter.
That evening, Sabrina decided she wanted to get a takeaway from the local Hungry Jacks burger restaurant. Lekaj insisted he would drive her.
They set off together in the luxury white Mercedes-Benz that Lekaj had bought Sabrina for her 18th birthday. When the pair didn’t return after a few hours, the police were called.
Officers soon found the Mercedes parked near the family home. Sabrina was dead in the front passenger seat with multiple stab wounds. Lekaj was next to her, bleeding heavily from wounds to his abdomen.
He was rushed to hospital and investigators tried to piece together what had happened. Who would attack the father and daughter in such a brutal way? But everything quickly fell horribly into place.
The knife used in the stabbings was from the Lekaj family home – Lekaj had grabbed it on the way out as they’d left for the takeaway.
When questioned why Sabrina had stab wounds, he confessed, ‘I did them.’ Lekaj admitted he had killed his only daughter.
‘I stabbed her when she wasn’t looking,’ he said. ‘No conversation, she just screamed for help… multiple times, I just kept stabbing her.’ The wounds on Lekaj were self-inflicted. But why had the father turned on Sabrina in such an extreme way?
When Lekaj was confronted about a motive, he explained he’d confronted Sabrina about her reckless partying ways. He said she was ‘throwing her life away’ and that he’d made sacrifices to give her a better life.
Sabrina had allegedly said that she didn’t care. She was achieving all her grades and was above average in everything she did – perhaps she felt she had nothing more to prove and that her dad was just trying to control her?
In response, Lekaj had pulled out the 15cm kitchen knife. He would claim it was simply to scare her, but instead he plunged it into his daughter’s stomach.
As a terrified Sabrina screamed and tried to escape, he moved to the rear passenger side, and restrained her. Holding his bleeding daughter with his left hand on her neck, he’d stabbed her multiple times with his right hand. There were eight wounds in total.
As Sabrina kicked and struggled, Lekaj put his hand over her mouth until she stopped moving. On realising what he’d done, he stabbed himself several times, before driving slowly around for nearly an hour bleeding, with his dead daughter beside him. That’s when police found him.
‘It’s unspeakable to think what I did,’ Lekaj said. He said he deserved to be in hell for what he’d done. Lekaj was charged with murder.
Mum Romina told the local press that Lekaj had never shown violence and it was completely out of the blue. ‘It’s a lot easier if one is the evil person and one is the victim and you know who to cry for, but you don’t actually know the story and you feel for both of them,’ she said.
At Sabrina’s funeral, she was mourned in a bright pink coffin. Her heartbroken brother promised never to forget her. The community were shocked by the extreme actions Lekaj had taken against a daughter that most families would have been proud of.
In August 2019, Lekaj pleaded guilty to murdering Sabrina. The prosecution said the attack was unprovoked and that Sabrina was entitled to feel safe with her father.
‘She was unarmed, she posed no threat to her father,’ they said. ‘He made no attempt to scare her, his first reaction was to stab her… it was his intention to kill her.’
They said that Lekaj may well have thought Sabrina ‘was throwing her life away’ but he responded violently. ‘It’s difficult to overstate how deeply troubling it is that a father would arm himself with a knife, even to scare his daughter, and then in such ordinary or commonplace circumstances his conduct escalates… to murder,’ they added.
The defence said the judge should take into account that the father instantly admitted he had killed the daughter he claimed to love so much.
‘It was the realisation that his daughter – the apple of his eye – has been lying; she’s been living another life with friends that involves the use of drugs,’ they said.
In March this year, Lekaj received a life sentence and told he would serve a minimum of 20 years before being eligible for parole. Sabrina’s mum did not make a statement in court.
Justice Trish Kelly said the murder was a ‘catastrophic breach’ of the father-daughter bond. She pointed out that Lekaj’s reaction to Sabrina’s use of drugs was ‘ironic’ at best considering his own drug convictions.
‘It seems clear enough from the evidence before me that the insolence of your daughter that day and her response to your distress and anger incensed you and you lost your temper to the point where you stabbed her eight times,’ she said.
‘In those few moments you simultaneously destroyed your life as well as Sabrina’s. You also changed forever the lives of each member of your family, your wife and your young son. You will have to live with those consequences for the rest of your life.’
Sabrina was a young woman who was trying to find her own way but was being controlled by a father who could feel his daughter slipping further from his grasp.
When Lekaj took that knife on the car ride with Sabrina, he went from being an overprotective father to a killer who only cared about having the final say in Sabrina’s life.
– The introduction of this article has been edited to make it clear that Petrit Lekaj was not how he portrayed himself to the outside world.