By Mary Ellen Godin
NEW HAVEN, Conn (Reuters) - Letters by home invasion murderer Steven Hayes, in which he claims to have murdered 17 women and kept their shoes as trophies, may be used on Tuesday to argue that his accomplice should not get the death penalty.
Attorneys for Joshua Komisarjevsky, who was convicted earlier this month in the brutal Cheshire home invasion, said the letters show their client is less culpable than Hayes, now on death row.
Both men were convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, and beating Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of the 2007 crime. Hawke-Petit was strangled and the girls, tied to their beds, died of smoke inhalation after the home was set on fire.
Letters Hayes wrote from prison in August and September to a woman in North Carolina were intercepted by the Department of Corrections and turned over to prosecutors.
In the letters, one of which was published by the New Haven Register over the weekend, Hayes said Komisarjevsky had the right amount of "evil" but let him down and, had both men not been caught shortly after the Petit home invasion, he would have killed Komisarjevsky.
Hayes also claimed in the letters that he murdered 17 women in the Northeast, some of whom he raped and strangled, and took their "sneakers" and "trophies." He called the Cheshire home invasion a "dry run" that would help him launch a whole new crime spree, a dream apparently cut short by his arrest.
A court-issued gag order currently prevents attorneys from discussing the case.
Asked whether they will investigate Hayes's claim that he is a serial killer, State's Attorney Michael Dearington and a state police spokesman declined comment on Monday.
The letters have been discussed during Komisarjevsky's trial, including during a failed defense attempt to delay closing arguments. While the defense lost that move, Judge Jon Blue ruled Komisarjevsky's lawyers may introduce the letters during the penalty phase of the trial, which begins on Tuesday in front of the same jury that convicted him two weeks ago.
During Hayes's trial, experts testified that Hayes had a sneaker fetish caused by an older babysitter who assaulted him and used sneakers as a sex toy.
Police who inspected Hayes's car after his arrest found one of Hayley's sneakers among other items stolen from the home. Detectives also found a closet full of sneakers and pornography when they searched his Winsted home in the days following the crime.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)