Jordan McSweeney, 29, trailed Ms Aleena through the streets at night before launching a ferocious attack, sexually assaulting her, and leaving her to die on the driveway of a home in Ilford, northeast London.
McSweeney, a heavily convicted criminal, carried out the attack in the early hours of June 26, just nine days after he had been set free from prison.
The “savage and brutal attack” on Ms Aleena, 35, was caught on terrifying CCTV, while McSweeney had been seen following a series of other women earlier in the evening before selecting Ms Aleena as his victim.
At the Old Bailey on Friday, he pleaded guilty to murder and sexual assault, and now faces a life sentence. The guilty plea follows a series of aborted court hearings when McSweeney had avoided psychological assessments, refused to leave his prison cell, and was suspected of attempting to disrupt court proceedings.
Mrs Justice Cheema Grubb adjourned sentencing to December 14, when members of Ms Aleena’s family will outline the impact of the murder on them.
Following the guilty plea, police released chilling CCTV footage of the dangerous sexual predato walking down a main road - just an hour before he murdered Ms Aleena.
In the days following her murder, her family paid tribute to Ms Aleena as a “joy to all of us” who had set her sights on becoming a lawyer at the age of five.
“Zara was friendly, she was everybody’s friend. She was everybody’s daughter, everybody’s niece, everybody’s sister, everybody’s cousin. She was pure of heart.”
Referencing the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, the family said Ms Aleena “walked everywhere” and “believed that a woman should be able to walk home”.
“Sadly, Zara is not the only one who has had her life taken at the hands of a stranger. We all know women should be safe on our streets. She was in the heart of her community, ten minutes from home”, they said. “In a savage, sickening, act she was murdered by a stranger.”
At an earlier hearing, prosecutor Oliver Glasgow KC said the attack happened at around 2.45am when Ms Aleena was minutes away from reaching her home following a night out with friends.
He said McSweeney caused the “violent death of Zara Aleena who was attacked in the early hours of the morning of June 26”, saying she was “a lone female late at night making her way home, a woman who stood no chance”.
“Emergency services were called after her body was discovered in a driveway on Cranbrook Road.
“She was bleeding, struggling to breathe, and had clearly sustained serious head injuries. She was also partially naked.
“The injuries she had sustained at the hands of this defendant were so severe that nothing could be done to save her.”
Ms Aleena studied law at the University of Westminster and she had recently completed a Legal Practice Course to be able to practise as a solicitor. Introducing the evidence, Mr Glasgow said: “Eyewitnesses and CCTV directly links this defendant to the savage and brutal attack on Zara Aleena.
“In the early hours, he was following and observing a number of different women. He was obviously interested in them and their movements. Tragically, for Zara Aleena, it was her on whom he became fixated.
“He is seen on CCTV to set about her on the ground. He is seen kicking and stamping repeatedly on her body.
“When the body was discovered, she was clearly already fatally wounded as a result of the onslaught.”
The court heard McSweeney was tracked to a caravan when police officers discovered a bag of blood-stained clothing and shoes.
His fingerprint was also found in blood at the scene of the attack.
The killer, from Dagenham, refused to speak in his police interview and repeatedly refused to leave his prison cell as court proceedings progressed.
When his barrister asked for a further delay to proceedings, the judge replied: “The defendant has now had three opportunities to meet with the psychologist and he hasn’t attended on any of them. He hasn’t attended today, and I am not prepared to put the case over until November.”
The court heard he made threats to police officers after his arrest and claims to suffer from ADHD and a split personality disorder.
McSweeney has 28 convictions for 69 offences, including for assaults on police officers and members of the public.
He was released from prison on June 17, 2022, after serving his latest sentence for burglary and theft of a motor vehicle.