Dr.: Conn. home invasion defendant tried suicide

AP News
Posted: Oct 20, 2010 5:23 PM
Dr.: Conn. home invasion defendant tried suicide

A Connecticut man convicted of killing a woman and two children in a home invasion spoke of suicide attempts and wanting to "look like a monster" so that a jury would sentence him to death, a psychiatrist testified Wednesday.

Yale University psychiatrist Dr. Paul Amble testified before a New Haven jury considering punishment for Steven Hayes. The doctor met with Hayes in March and concluded he was competent to stand trial.

Hayes was convicted two weeks ago of killing of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, at their Cheshire home in 2007. The jury will decide whether he deserves execution or life in prison for the killings.

Hayes has not testified, but Amble said the defendant told him he wanted to take the stand and "look like a monster" to the jury by expressing no remorse.

"He wanted to essentially encourage them to vote in favor of the death penalty," Amble said.

But under cross examination by prosecutors, Amble said he did not know if Hayes genuinely wanted the death penalty.

Amble also testified that Hayes told him he repeatedly tried to kill himself after the crime because of guilt, remorse and a fear of being isolated in prison for the rest of his life. Hayes also said he had attempted suicide in the years before the crime, Amble testified.

Amble said Hayes' "persistent desire was to kill himself." He said in one attempt, Hayes took a potentially lethal dose of prescribed medication. Hayes said he also tried to strangle himself with a sock and said he even fantasized about trying to kill himself by putting his head in the toilet and doing a back flip, but feared he'd wind up paralyzed.

Hayes also said he had nightmares about the crime, Amble testified.

New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington pressed Amble about whether prisoners sometimes fake suicide attempts to show remorse to a jury to get a more lenient sentence. Dearington also brought up prison documents outside the presence of the jury in which Hayes said he would be fine with a life sentence.

Authorities said Hayes and co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky broke into the house, beat Hawke-Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit, and forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw money from a bank before Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled her. Their daughters were tied to their beds before the house was set ablaze. William Petit was able to free himself and escape.

The jury must weigh so-called aggravating factors cited by prosecutors, including the heinous and cruel nature of the deaths, against mitigating factors argued by Hayes' attorneys.

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Hayes' attorneys have portrayed him as a clumsy thief driven by a powerful drug addiction and prodded by Komisarjevsky. They called Komisarjevsky, who is to be tried next year, the mastermind of the crime and cited his writings to try to show he was a longtime master nighttime burglar who escalated the violence inside the Petit home.

They have said they do not plan to focus on his childhood, but they did introduce a report from another psychiatrist who evaluated him last year and said he experienced early sexual abuse by a babysitter that likely led him to feel isolated.

Hayes began drinking at age 11, used cocaine and LSD as a teenager and was kicked out of a reform school for drug use, Amble testified. Under cross examination from prosecutors, he said he did not see any records indicating Hayes was undergoing withdrawal from drug abuse.

Hayes at one point weighed over 200 pounds, but at the time of the evaluation was down to 135 pounds, Amble said. He said the weight loss was due to in part to Hayes' fear that someone was spitting in his food.

Testimony resumes Monday.