Murdered primary school teacher Sabina Nessa appeared “oblivious” to a garage worker running up behind her before he struck her 34 times over the head with a metal traffic triangle in a London park in September last year.
The 28-year-old woman had raised concerns about walking in Cator Park, Kidbrooke, after dark but likely decided to on the day of her murder after running late to meet a friend, a court has heard.
Koci Selamaj, 36, who pleaded guilty to murder at a previous hearing, declined to appear at the Old Bailey on Thursday afternoon for sentencing and the hearing went ahead in his absence.
Ms Nessa taught a year one class at Rushey Green Primary School in Catford and was described as “amazing, caring, (and) beautiful” by her sister.
Her death led to an outpouring of grief and reignited fury over violence against women in the UK.
Grainy footage of the moment Ms Nessa was attacked in southeast London was shown in court, with the prosecution describing how she seemed “oblivious” as Selamaj ran up behind her.
After hearing from prosecution and defence barristers, as well an emotional statement from Ms Nessa’s sister, Mr Justice Sweeney adjourned the hearing until Friday where he is expected to pass sentence.
Violent murder in London park caught on CCTV
Selamaj lurked around Cator Park in Kidbrooke before targeting 28-year-old Ms Nessa as she passed through on her way to meet a friend on 17 September last year, a court heard.
The horrific moments in which he attacked Ms Nessa – striking her over the head with a metal traffic triangle 34 times before carrying her away unconscious – were captured on CCTV.
Selamaj then pulled up her clothes, removed her tights and underwear and strangled her before covering her body in grass.
Her body was found nearly 24 hours later near a community centre in the park.
A murder investigation saw detectives urgently searching for her killer but it was not until 26 September – some nine days later – that Selamaj was arrested in Eastbourne, East Sussex, where he lived.
Prosecutor: Selamaj had history of violence towards ex-partner
At the hearing on Thursday, prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said Selamaj had been violent towards his ex-partner in the past, including throttling her.
Three days before he killed Ms Nessa, the defendant booked a room at the five-star Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, the town where he already had accommodation.
On 17 September, he booked into the hotel and, two hours before the murder, contacted his former partner in a failed bid to engage her in sexual activity.
Selamaj lay in wait, checking if anyone else was nearby before attacking Ms Nessa
He drove up to London and entered Cator Park just after 8pm, lying in wait for half an hour before Ms Nessa arrived en route to a bar where she was meant to meet a friend.
Ms Nessa had previously mentioned being concerned about being in the park after dark, but the prosecutor said it “seems likely” she chose to walk there that night because she was running late and this was the quickest route.
In CCTV footage shown in court, Selamaj is seen walking along the path with his hood up and the traffic sign in his hand.
He then crosses paths with Ms Nessa, and he turns around as they walk past each other.
She is “oblivious to him behind her” at this point, the court hears.
He then runs up behind her and starts hitting her repeatedly with the traffic sign.
Selamaj was then seen carrying Ms Nessa, who appeared to be unconscious by that point, up a bank and out of sight.
Sexual motive for killing, prosecution alleges
En route back to the south coast, he stopped in the area of Tunbridge Wells in Kent where he disposed of the murder weapon in the River Teise.
Ms Morgan invited the court to conclude there was a sexual motive for the killing, even though there was no “positive” evidence of a sexual assault.
She said the attack “did not come about on the spur of the moment” and there was “significant planning”.
A pathologist later said there was evidence of both blunt force trauma to her head and asphyxiation, either of which could have caused her death, the court heard.
‘She had the right to feel safe,’ Sabina Nessa’s sister says
Ms Nessa’s sister Jebina Yasmin Islam broke down as she gave a moving impact statement to the court.
“She had every right to be walking down the path and enjoying herself,” she said.
“She had the right to feel safe.”
Through tears, she said: “I would do anything to hold her one more time.”
Head teacher Lisa Williams said Ms Nessa’s school was in “utter shock” at her killing and that she had had a “fulfilling career ahead of her”.
Defence: Guilty plea saved family from ‘harrowing’ trial
Selamaj – who is originally from Albania – came to the UK roughly seven years ago after leaving school at 12 with no qualifications, his defence barrister said.
The defence pointed out he had pleaded guilty to murder rather than letting the case go to trial, arguing it should be considered in sentencing.
This has “saved [Sabina Nessa’s] family the stress of going through such a harrowing trial”, they added.
Killing ‘once again brought to the fore the question of women’s safety on the streets’
Speaking a week later at a vigil in the park where her sister was killed, Jebina Yasmin Islam broke down in tears, saying: “We have lost an amazing, caring, beautiful sister, who left this world far too early.”
Her uncle Shahin Miah said her death “once again brought to the fore the question of women’s safety on the streets”.
Less than a month after Ms Nessa’s murder, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that an independent inquiry would look into the “systematic failures” by police following the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer.