"Doomed from birth" killer should be spared death: lawyer

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 25, 2011 5:44 PM
"Doomed from birth" killer should be spared death: lawyer

By Mary Ellen Godin

NEW HAVEN, Conn (Reuters) - Joshua Komisarjevsky was "doomed from birth," his lawyer on Tuesday told a jury that convicted him of a murderous home invasion and will now decide whether he should be punished with the death penalty.

Komisarjevsky, 31, was convicted of murdering Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, and beating unconscious Dr. William Petit Jr. at their Cheshire home. Hawke-Petit was strangled and the girls, tied to their beds, died of smoke inhalation after the home was set on fire.

His accomplice, Steven Hayes, was convicted separately and sentenced to death.

As the penalty phase of Komisarjevsky's trial began on Tuesday, Petit, the lone survivor of the 2007 attack, left the courtroom. Petit was a constant presence throughout the first part of the trial, which ended October 13 when the jury convicted Komisarjevsky of 17 counts of murder, arson, kidnapping and sexual assault.

The defense asked the same jury on Tuesday to consider the odds stacked against Komisarjevsky throughout his life - particularly sexual abuse as a child - in order to understand why he should be spared from death row, where Hayes now sits.

Komisarjevsky should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, said lead defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan.

"He was doomed from birth," Donovan told the jury.

Born into a family with psychological problems including bi-polar disorder, Komisarjevsky was then adopted in infancy by a family with extreme evangelical beliefs, his lawyer said.

"Anyone who does not accept Jesus the exact same way they did was an influence to be avoided," Donovan said.

One of the most traumatic events of his life occurred after adoptive parents Ben and Jude Komisarjevsky took in a 15-year-old foster teen, who sexually abused 4-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky.

"He burned him with cigarettes and otherwise terrorized this small child," Donovan said. "Joshua lived in fear."

Because of the family's rigid religious beliefs, the sexual abuse haunted him throughout his life, his lawyer said.

"He saw himself as a sinner because of the sexual activity thrust on him," he said.

When Komisarjevsky started spying on neighbors, stealing and setting fire to a gas station, his parents relied on evangelical theology rather than psychiatry and psychology to help their troubled son.

"They kept it all a secret. They didn't believe in counseling."

He was home schooled and kept away from "outsiders" who could have helped him with his problems, his lawyer said.

When authorities sent him to a Connecticut home for juvenile delinquents, counselors advised psychiatric counseling and medication to treat his depression.

His adoptive parents were able to transfer him to a faith-based treatment center in New Hampshire after his mother said she would consider medication for him. The family moved to a religious community.

"There was no counseling, no analysis" at the New Hampshire center, Donovan said. "They were just trying to get him back to God."

Prosecutors waived their opening statement in the penalty phase of the trial, launching their case by presenting evidence of Komisarjevsky's criminal record -- three burglary convictions in three towns, including Cheshire in 2002.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)