Jury told that man aided in gruesome Connecticut murders

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 11, 2011 5:19 PM
Jury told that man aided in gruesome Connecticut murders

By Mary Ellen Godin

NEW HAVEN, Conn (Reuters) - A man accused with an accomplice of killing three people and setting fire to their Connecticut house did "absolutely nothing" to stop the violent home invasion, a prosecutor said in closing statements on Tuesday in New Haven Superior Court.

Defense attorneys for Joshua Komisarjevsky, who is charged with murder, arson and sexual assault, have tried to shift blame on the alleged accomplice, Steven Hayes, who was found guilty last year of similar charges and sentenced to death.

Jennifer Hawke-Petit and daughters Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, died in the 2007 attack in Cheshire, Connecticut. The only survivor, Dr. William Petit, was badly beaten and bound but managed to escape as the house was set on fire.

"There was no way Hayes committed those crimes alone," state's attorney Gary Nicholson said in a 90-minute closing statement. "Hayley and Michaela knew they were going to die a horrible, painful death. And what did this defendant do to stop it? He did absolutely nothing."

He said Komisarjevsky intended for the family to burn in a fire set by him and Hayes.

Like Hayes, Komisarjevsky, if convicted, faces the possibility of a death sentence. Of the 17 charges against him, six have a maximum penalty of death.

The defense tried to portray Hayes as wanting to murder the family and Komisarjevsky as protesting against killing anyone.

Komisarjevsky confessed to police but did not intend for anyone to die, defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan said in his statement.

Donovan asked jury members to keep emotion out of their deliberations. "You have more power than the president. You have the power to have someone die," he said.

The case was expected to go to the jury on Wednesday.

Komisarjevsky sat in court, dressed in a dark suit. His parents were seated in a row behind him.

Petit sat in the front row closest to the jury, surrounded by family and supporters. His head was bowed as he listened to Nicholson describe the deaths of his wife and daughters.

The prosecutor took the jury through the events of July 23, 2007 when he said Komisarjevsky spotted Michaela Petit shopping in a grocery store and made her his target.

"He was interested in her the moment he saw her. The fact they had a nice car, house made her a more attractive target," the prosecutor said.

Prosecutors say Komisarjevsky and Hayes broke into the Petit home at about 2:30 a.m. The doctor, who testified at both trials, said he was beaten and bound in the basement.

About 9 a.m., Hawke-Petit drove to a bank, where she told a teller her family was being held hostage and she needed $15,000 to pay off the captors.

A bank manager called police but when authorities arrived at the Petit home, it was engulfed in flames. The police have been criticized as being slow to respond.

Petit testified that he managed to free his hands and hop up steps out of the basement. He fell and finally rolled across the lawn to a neighbor's house for help.

In the burning house were the girls, who died of smoke inhalation, and the body of Hawke-Petit, who had been raped and strangled. The younger girl had been sexually assaulted.

Earlier in the day, defense attorneys unsuccessfully sought a delay in the case after discovering letters Hayes wrote to a woman in which they said he wrote that he had killed 17 women.

Hayes would have killed Komisarjevsky if the two had escaped, the defense said.

Connecticut has only executed one person, in 2005, since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)