Defense seeks to bar victim from Connecticut home invasion trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 13, 2011 8:04 PM
Defense seeks to bar victim from Connecticut home invasion trial

By Zach Howard

CONWAY, Mass (Reuters) - Lawyers for a man on trial for murder in a 2007 Connecticut home invasion that killed a mother and her two daughters have asked a judge to bar the sole survivor of the attack from the courtroom when other witnesses testify.

Dr. William Petit, who was beaten in the attack, was expected to be called as a witness in the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky, 30, set to begin September 19 in New Haven, Connecticut.

Komisarjevsky is accused over the murders of Petit's wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and the couple's daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11.

In court documents, Komisarjevsky's defense lawyers asked that Petit be sequestered, saying he is a complaining witness rather than a victim, and that during the last trial, he "demonstrated a propensity to shape his testimony."

A jury last year convicted Komisarjevsky's alleged accomplice, Steven Hayes, 47, of murder in the deaths of the mother and daughters and handed down a death sentence.

During that trial, witnesses other than Petit were sequestered. But state law granted Petit the right to be present in court because he was a victim as well as a witness.

But Komisarjevsky's lawyers argue sequestration would give their defendant a chance for a fair trial because Petit would not be able to tailor his testimony to that of other witnesses. They say Petit went "so far as to correct what others had said under oath" during the Hayes trial.

The judge has not ruled on the matter, according to the clerk at New Haven's Superior Court.

According to prosecutors, Komisarjevsky and Hayes decided to rob the Petit home in Cheshire, Connecticut after targeting Hawke-Petit at a local grocery store.

Breaking into the home in the middle of the night, the assailants found Petit asleep, beat him and tied him up.

Petit escaped the house after several hours, at which point the attackers sexually assaulted and killed his wife and set a fire that killed the two girls, one of whom they sexually assaulted.

Connecticut's last execution, the first since 1960, was in 2005, according to state authorities.

Earlier, Komisarjevsky tried to strike a plea deal in hopes of avoiding the death penalty. However, prosecutors said they had no plans to offer such a deal.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)