Witness: Jail violence unlikely from Conn. convict

AP News
Posted: Oct 26, 2010 5:52 PM
Witness: Jail violence unlikely from Conn. convict

Even though he threatened to kill a correction officer seven months ago, a Connecticut man convicted in a deadly home invasion is unlikely to commit serious violence if he spends his life in prison, a defense expert testified Tuesday.

A New Haven jury heard more testimony Tuesday that it will use to decide whether Steven Hayes should he imprisoned for life or executed for killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, at their Cheshire home in 2007.

Authorities said Hayes and another ex-convict, Joshua Komisarjevsky, broke into the Petit house, beat Hawke-Petit's husband, William, with a baseball bat and forced her to withdraw money from a bank before Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled her.

Michaela and Hayley were tied to their beds with pillowcases over their heads and doused with gasoline before the house was set ablaze, according to testimony. Michaela was allegedly sexually assaulted by Komisarjevsky. The girls died of smoke inhalation.

Psychologist Mark Cunningham said Tuesday that Hayes would likely serve his sentence without seriously hurting an inmate or guard. He said the 47-year-old Hayes had already served 25 years in prison without committing serious violence and that prison violence is more likely with younger offenders.

On Monday, a retired prison official testified that Hayes threatened to kill a correction officer, saying he had nothing to lose.

Cunningham said Hayes' threat did not change his conclusion. He called the threat incendiary but said Hayes made it to a supervisor because he felt the officer was harassing him and he was trying to get it to stop.

"It is a threat. It is not an actual assault," Cunningham said.

Correction officer deaths at the hands of inmates are rare, with only one death per every 1 million prisoners, Cunningham testified.

Cunningham said his study of thousands of murder convicts concluded that they were not more likely to commit assaults in prison than inmates serving time for other crimes.

He said jurors and psychiatrists who testify at trials often predict murderers will commit violence in prison, but studies contradict that belief.

"This is a body of research that is very counterintuitive," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said his research in Missouri found that inmates serving life sentences were actually half as likely to be involved in assaults as parole-eligible inmates. He said prisoners serving life sentences may be motivated to avoid making their time tougher by losing privileges.

The sentencing hearing continues Wednesday. Closing arguments were originally scheduled for Friday, but Superior Court Judge Jon Blue told the jury they would likely be Monday.

Meanwhile, another judge in New Haven said Tuesday he won't rule immediately on whether Komisarjevsky's attorney violated a gag order and should face a contempt hearing.

Attorney Jeremiah Donovan appeared before Superior Court Judge Roland Fasano. Donovan said he spoke out last month to try to clear up a misunderstanding by the victims' relatives about charges that Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted one of the girls.

"If it was a misguided act of compassion, it woefully missed the mark," Fasano said.

Komisarjevsky faces trial next year.