No jurors picked yet for Conn. home invasion trial

AP News
Posted: Mar 16, 2011 6:19 PM
No jurors picked yet for Conn. home invasion trial

No jurors were picked Wednesday in the first day of jury selection for the trial of a second Connecticut man accused of killing a mother and her two daughters in a brutal home invasion.

Several jurors were excused after saying they had strong opinions about the crime or could not be impartial. One woman said she had an immediate emotional reaction when she learned she was called for the case and was almost brought to tears.

Judge Jon Blue told attorneys before prospective jurors were brought into New Haven Superior Court that any who cry or panic when they learn they were being considered for Joshua Komisarjevsky's trial would be excused immediately.

Authorities say Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, in their Cheshire home in 2007.

Hayes was sentenced to death last year after he was convicted of raping and strangling Hawke-Petit and killing the girls, who were tied to their beds and died of smoke inhalation after the house was set on fire.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes were paroled burglars who blamed each other for escalating the attack. Prosecutors say both were equally responsible.

After numerous people were excused for financial hardship or for knowing someone involved in the case, prosecutors and defense attorneys began questioning prospective jurors about their views on the case.

"I'm really not sure I could be unbiased," the first man interviewed said. "I have some pretty strong feelings about what happened in this case."

He was among about 10 potential jurors excused, in addition to those with hardships, after they were interviewed. One woman said she thought Komisarjevsky was guilty and when a man was asked about Komisarjevsky's presumption of innocence, he said, "I don't know if I can honestly say yes to that."

A father of two daughters said the case would make him angry to serve as a juror, and he described himself as a strong death penalty supporter. Like many people in the state, he said, he believed Komisarjevsky should get the death penalty.

Extensive questioning of prospective jurors shed light on the defense strategy for trying to spare Komisarjevsky the death penalty if he is convicted. Komisarjevsky has said in writings he was abused as a child.

His attorneys asked potential jurors if they would consider factors such as whether a defendant was emotionally abused or recommended for psychological treatment but did not receive it. They also asked about home schooling and foster homes.

A prosecutor didn't immediately recognize Komisarjevsky, who wore a white dress shirt and newly short haircut. During pretrial hearings, he wore an orange prison jumpsuit and had much longer hair.

Blue said he or another judge would consider later a defense bid for Komisarjevsky to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.

Blue initially ordered a witness list sealed after defense attorneys raised concerns that some witnesses could be intimidated by publicity surrounding the case. But the judge said later he might release a partial list of witnesses who will be called to testify that would include the names of those not likely to feel intimidated, such as law enforcement.

Jury selection is expected to take months before the trial starts in September. Blue said the trial could last four weeks to three months, depending on whether Komisarjevsky is convicted and there is a second, penalty phase to determine whether he should receive a death sentence.