05/14/2015 03:21 EDT | Updated 05/14/2016 05:59 EDT

Stabbing of hotel worker was 'planned and deliberate murder,' prosecutor says

TORONTO - The grisly stabbing of a Toronto woman as she walked home on a rainy morning nearly three years ago was a "planned and deliberate" murder, Crown prosecutors alleged Thursday as the trial of the man accused in her death got underway.

The motive for Nighisti Semret's death, however, remained shrouded in mystery.

Adonay Zekarias has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the case. But Crown prosecutors allege he was Semret's killer.

"When all the pieces of the puzzle are put together, all of the evidence will point to Adonay Zekarias's guilt," Crown prosecutor Meghan Scott said in an opening statement which provided a roadmap of the evidence expected in the case.

Zekarias and Semret knew each other, Scott said — they were both refugees from the North African country of Eritrea, had once lived in the same refugee shelter for a time, and went to English lessons together for a time.

Immigration records also show they were members of the same church in Eritrea, Scott said.

"We have an obligation to prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that Adonay Zekarias committed the planned and deliberate murder of Nighisti Semret," Scott told the jury hearing the case.

"We do not, however, have to prove why he killed her and I don't anticipate that we will be able to."

Semret, 55-year-old a mother of three, was a housekeeper at a busy downtown hotel.

She was walking home from an overnight shift around 7 a.m. on Oct. 23, 2012 when, unbeknownst to her, she was followed by a man, Scott said.

As Semret walked through a laneway near her home, the man attacked, stabbing her seven times, Scott said.

"Nighisti Semret fought for her life, and as she fought her attacker, he cut himself very badly," Scott said, noting that the man's blood was found under Semret's fingernails.

A neighbour, David Hughes, heard Semret's screams, ran to her aid and used his umbrella to fend off her attacker, who then ran away, Scott said.

"David Hughes went to Nighisti Semret's aid and asked one question, 'did he stab you?' She answered one word, 'yes' and never spoke again," Scott told the jury.

A police officer who responded to 911 calls about the stabbing testified Semret was on the ground in a semi-conscious state when he arrived.

"She was alive, she was groaning," said Const. Mark Milne, who saw blood pooling around Semret. "I found at least three puncture wounds in her jacket."

The full extent of Semret's wounds, however, only became apparent after medics arrived.

Court heard she was stabbed repeatedly in her back, her chest, her thigh and her arm.

Semret died in a hospital less than an hour after she was attacked, Scott said.

Zekarias, Scott alleged, called 911 for medical assistance for his own "severe hand injuries" later on the same day.

"He told the 911 operator he hurt his hands lifting something, and he told the medical personnel he got both of his hands caught in a door when it slammed on him," Scott said. "They had a concern that Adonay Zekarias' explanations did not match the injuries."

When police conducted a search warrant on his apartment at one point on the investigation, they seized a laptop. That laptop was allegedly found to have been used to monitor the police investigation into Semret's death from both Canada and Germany.

Zekarias returned to Toronto in February 2013, Scott said, and was arrested in September that year.