The trial of a Connecticut man charged with killing a mother and her two daughters during a notorious home invasion should not be moved, a judge ruled Monday, saying his attorneys failed to prove pretrial publicity prevented him from getting a fair trial in New Haven.
Attorneys for Joshua Komisarjevsky (koh-mih-sar-JEF'-skee) say he can't get a fair trial in New Haven because he was "demonized" during the trial of co-defendant Steven Hayes last year.
Prosecutors objected to moving the trial, saying extensive media coverage does not prove prejudicial publicity.
New Haven Superior Court Judge Jon Blue said both sides will be able to inquire about the effects of pretrial publicity during jury selection, though he said the goal is not to select 12 jurors "with empty heads." If the selection process is not successful, then the request to move the trial must be revisited, Blue said.
Authorities say Komisarjevsky and Hayes killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, in their Cheshire home in 2007. Dr. William Petit, Hawke-Petit's husband and the girl's father, was beaten with a baseball bat but survived.
Hayes was convicted of sexually assaulting and strangling Hawke-Petit. Authorities say the girls were tied to their beds, with gasoline poured on or around them, before the house was set on fire, leading to their deaths from smoke inhalation. Hayes, who also was convicted of killing the girls, was sentenced to death last year.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky have blamed each other for escalating the crime, but prosecutors say both men were equally responsible.
Jury selection for Komisarjevsky's trial starts March 16.
The defense, which wanted the trial moved to adjacent Fairfield County, hired experts to conduct a telephone survey in an effort to bolster its argument.
About two-thirds of respondents in the New Haven area believe Komisarjevsky should be executed, compared with about half in a judicial district in Fairfield County, which includes Stamford and Norwalk. The survey also found a higher percentage in New Haven believes Komisarjevsky is guilty.
Defense attorneys cited more than 1,800 articles written about the crime in recent years, coming from places ranging from Connecticut to Moscow. They said the survey found that more than 99 percent of local residents know about the case, a record for high-profile crimes studied by experts.
Blue said the defense survey also found that more than 70 percent of New Haven residents reported they could render a verdict based only on the evidence. He said the New Haven judicial district has a diverse population of more than 800,000 to pick 12 jurors.
The judge also noted that the news coverage was widely available online throughout the world. He said the news coverage "has not created an indelible impression on the public with respect to Komisarjevsky's actual admissions," noting that the survey found only 6 percent of respondents cited Komisarjevsky's statements to authorities as the most compelling evidence against him.