Deal reached to show video of Komisarjevsky child

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2011 5:04 PM
Deal reached to show video of Komisarjevsky child

A judge on Thursday restricted who can view videotaped testimony of the 9-year-old daughter of a man convicted of killing three people in a 2007 home invasion after lawyers for the girl said she has received death threats.

Judge Jon C. Blue's ruling came during the penalty phase of Joshua Komisarjevsky's trial in New Haven. The jury that convicted him last month of capital felony, murder, sexual assault and other crimes is now considering whether he should get the death penalty or life in prison. His co-defendant, Steven Hayes, is already on death row.

Blue said he would only allow jurors, lawyers and reporters to see the video. It's not clear when the video, which doesn't exist yet, will be shown.

Under Blue's order, the video will be played in open court, but only the jury will be able to see it. The audience would be able only to listen to it. Credentialed members of the media will be allowed to watch the video at some later point when court is not in session, possibly on the same day the jury sees it.

Blue said he wouldn't allow the video to be released to the general public, and no one will be allowed to take photos or draw sketches of the girl while the video is played. The main goal, he said, is to protect her from harm by shielding her identity and not allowing photos or videos of her to be made public.

"There could be someone out there who seeks to do harm to the child," Blue said. "That we have to be careful of."

The ruling came after lawyers for the girl and WFSB-TV reached an agreement on the video. Raymond Hassett, an attorney for a state-appointed guardian for the girl, had sought to close the courtroom to the public when the video was shown, but several media organizations objected. Reporters for the New Haven Register and The Hartford Courant also testified in court Thursday about their objections to closing the courtroom and their support for the compromise that was reached.

Komisarjevsky's lawyers want to show his daughter's testimony in their efforts to convince the jury that he has some redeeming qualities and should be spared from the death penalty.

Defense witnesses have testified that Komisarjevsky was sexually abused as a child by a foster brother and that he was brought up in a fundamentalist religious family that doesn't believe in mental health counseling or medication. They also have testified that he has done very well while in prison, drug treatment counseling and a halfway house where he was sent after serving time for nearly 20 burglaries before the home invasion.

A friend of Komisarjevsky's is expected to testify for the defense on Friday.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes were convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, in their Cheshire home. Authorities say Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted Michaela, while Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled Hawke-Petit. The house was then set on fire, and the two girls _ who were tied to their beds _ died of smoke inhalation. Hawke-Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit, was severely beaten but survived.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes were caught when they crashed the Petits' car into police cruisers near the home while fleeing.

Jurors will have to weigh whether aggravating factors in the case, including the sexual assaults, outweigh mitigating factors, such as Komisarjevsky's troubled childhood.