Music director: Conn. killer's 'life has value'

AP News
Posted: Nov 01, 2011 6:27 PM
Music director: Conn. killer's 'life has value'

The director of a Christian music tour on Tuesday gave an impassioned plea to a jury to spare the life of a Connecticut man convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters, saying the man is remorseful and will someday need to explain his actions to his own daughter.

Mark Middlebrooks testified Tuesday in the sentencing phase of Joshua Komisarjevsky that Komisarjevsky was an "outstanding" member of the group, which traveled the United States and Western Europe in 1997 when he was about 17. Komisarjevsky worked as a lighting technician for the group.

"Josh's life has value because I know who he is beneath all the circumstances," Middlebrooks said, adding Komisarjevsky has a responsibility to seek redemption.

Middlebrooks also said Komisarjevsky will need to answer to his 9-year-old daughter someday when she asks, "What the hell were you thinking?"

He addressed Komisarjevsky directly at that point, saying he'll need to take responsibility, as Komisarjevsky's attorney put his hand on his client's shoulder.

Komisarjevsky, 31, was convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters in their Cheshire home in 2007. He faces life in prison or the death penalty.

Prosecutor Gary Nicholson reminded Middlebrooks of the gruesome details of the crimes, in which the victims were tied up for eight hours and the girls doused in gasoline before their house was set on fire. Nicholson asked if Komisarjevsky's conviction on all counts had no effect on him.

"It does have an effect on me," he said, nearly shouting and his face red. "It has an effect on me. I resent that."

Middlebrooks noted Komisarjevsky has a young daughter and parents who love him. Nicholson asked him if Adolf Hitler had parents and whether other killers have children, prompting an objection from the defense.

Middlebrooks traveled from Colorado to visit Komisarjevsky in prison after the crime.

"I'm here to advocate for Josh's life," he told the jury.

But he also said Komisarjevsky has "great culpability for what has happened."

"I'm aware of his remorse," he said.

Nicholson cited earlier testimony by Komisarjevsky's sister that he feels sorrow for the killings, but blames the sole survivor, Dr. William Petit, for not doing more to help his family. Petit was beaten with a bat and tied up but managed to escape to a neighbor's to get help.

Middlebrooks said Komisarjevsky, as a teenager, had been very good with his 3-year-old daughter during the two three-month tours.

Middlebrooks also recalled that Komisarjevsky was deeply affected when they visited a burn center in Trinidad and held the hand of a girl who was burned all over her body as she cried. That prompted Nicholson to remind the jury the two girls were killed in the house fire and that Komisarjevsky had been arrested before the tour for burning down a vacant garage.

He said Komisarjevsky was in legal trouble at the time he joined the group, called the Continentals. But Middlebrooks said he felt "compelled and burdened" to accept him for the tour, a decision he never regretted.

"He responded so well to me and my leadership," Middlebrooks said. "We developed a trust. I didn't have to worry about Josh."

Middlebrooks said Komisarjevsky told him about negative experiences he had earlier with Christian camps. He said he felt rejected by Christians because he was different or acted differently.

"He just felt somewhat discriminated against," he said.

Komisarjevsky's sister testified Tuesday that her parents didn't get counseling outside of church after he sexually abused her because they feared the state could break up the family.

The sister said her parents worried she or her brother could be removed from the home.

The sister told a jury Monday that Komisarjevsky sexually abused her as a child for years. Her name is being withheld by The Associated Press.

The defense says Komisarjevsky's religious family did not get him proper psychological treatment. His attorneys say he was sexually abused by a foster teen the family took into their home and later as a teen by someone else. Prosecutors say those claims came from Komisarjevsky and emerged years later when he faced prison time for 19 nighttime residential burglaries.

His sister said under cross-examination that she turned out successful even though she was raised in the same house and suffered sexual abuse as well.