Jury begins deliberations in gruesome Connecticut murders

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 12, 2011 2:08 PM
Jury begins deliberations in gruesome Connecticut murders

By Mary Ellen Godin

NEW HAVEN, Conn (Reuters) - A jury began deliberations on Wednesday in the case of a man accused with an accomplice of killing a mother and her two daughters and setting fire to their Connecticut house in a grisly 2007 home invasion.

If convicted, Joshua Komisarjevsky faces the possibility of the death sentence for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, who died in the attack in Cheshire, Connecticut.

The 17 charges against him include murder, kidnapping, arson and sexual assault.

Komisarjevsky's alleged accomplice, Steven Hayes, was found guilty of similar charges last year and sentenced to death.

The jury in the Hayes case deliberated five hours over two days before convicting him.

This jury in New Haven Superior Court began deliberations at midday on Wednesday after three weeks of graphic testimony.

Prosecutors said Komisarjevsky and Hayes broke into the Petit home early on July 23, 2007 after Komisarjevsky spotted Michaela Petit in a grocery store and made her his target.

Later that morning, 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.

The only survivor, Dr. William Petit, was badly beaten and bound but managed to escape as the house was set on fire.

In the burning house were his daughters, who died of smoke inhalation, and the body of his wife, who had been raped and strangled. The younger girl had been sexually assaulted.

Defense attorneys for Komisarjevsky tried to shift the blame, arguing that Hayes wanted to murder the family and Komisarjevsky protested against killing anyone.

Komisarjevsky confessed to police but did not intend for anyone to die, defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan argued.

Komisarjevsky stood before the jury on Wednesday dressed in a black suit. His parents and sister were seated behind him.

Earlier in the proceedings, Judge Jon Blue denied two defense requests for a mistrial.

In one request, the defense claimed the prosecution changed its argument from the Hayes trial when it said the two men played equal roles in the crimes. In this trial, the defense argued, prosecutors portrayed Komisarjevsky as the ringleader.

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)