Jury hears testimony of Conn. killer's daughter, 9

AP News
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Posted: Nov 23, 2011 5:24 PM
Jury hears testimony of Conn. killer's daughter, 9

Defense attorneys played a videotaped interview of a 9-year-old girl whose father is facing a possible death sentence for a home invasion that killed three people even though their client objected, saying he didn't want his daughter to feel compelled to help "one of the most hated people in America."

Joshua Komisarjevsky's daughter giggles a lot in the video as she talks to a child welfare expert about her dogs and other animals and her toys. At one point, she says she used to play with "Nana's son Josh" and says he went to jail for something.

Komisarjevsky's attorneys played the video Wednesday as they try to persuade the jury to spare him the death penalty. Komisarjevsky and his co-defendant, Steven Hayes, were convicted of murder in the killing of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, at their Cheshire home. Hayes is on death row.

The girl, who has brown hair parted in the middle and wore a pink striped sweater, swivels in her chair and looks up at the ceiling as she talks to the expert while doing a puzzle, drawing and looking at family photos. Asked her favorite color, she says, "It depends on my mood. I'm kind of like in a lime mood."

The girl describes a movie about a baby zebra that gets separated from his family at the circus and goes on to live at a farm raised by horses and become a racehorse. "It's funny and sad and cool," she says.

Caroline Long Burry, a child welfare expert who interviewed the girl last weekend, said she believes the child recognizes the story is an analogy to her own life.

The girl calls Komisarjevsky him "Daddy Josh" when she's with his family, but refers to him as the son of her grandparents when with her maternal relatives, Burry said.

Burry described the girl as bright and engaging and expressed concerns that if Komisarjevsky is sentenced to death "she would have to live on a daily basis with being labeled and quite possibly stigmatized with the fact her father is on death row and there is an execution coming up." Burry, a death penalty opponent, also said the girl is known to withdraw and has a lot of anxiety.

Prosecutor Michael Dearington reminded jurors under cross-examination that Komisarjevsky was convicted of sexually assaulting and killing a girl less than two years older than his daughter. Dearington also noted that those sentenced to death spend many years on death row and asked Burry about the last execution, which was in 2005 and was the only one since 1960 in Connecticut.

Komisarjevsky, speaking for the first time in his trial other than a taped confession, told the trial judge earlier Wednesday that his daughter was coached, an allegation denied by an attorney for the girl's guardian.

"I've carefully come to the overwhelming opinion that I am not at all comfortable putting my daughter in a position wherein she may feel that she has to explain or justify herself to anyone who perceives her statements to somehow help one of the most hated people in America," Komisarjevsky said.

"She's 9 years old. Had this interview been her decision to make and she was old enough to understand that decision that would be one thing. However, that is not the case in this situation. The decision has been made for her," he said.

Komisarjevsky noted his life is on the line. He said the negative consequences to his daughter outweigh the benefits of helping to save his life.

"I will not beg for my life," he said. "I will humbly request in earnest that your honor please uphold the thoughtfully weighed decision of defendant over the wish of the defense team."

Komisarjevsky's lawyers played the videotape of the girl in hopes of persuading jurors to spare him the death penalty. New Haven Superior Court Judge Jon Blue agreed with the attorneys that they have the final say.

The attorney for the girl's guardian said the interview with the girl was done carefully in a nonconfrontational way.

Komisarjevsky has been behind bars for nearly his daughter's entire life. He served more than four years for nighttime residential burglaries and also has been imprisoned since the killings four years ago. She visited him in prison 55 times during the earlier stint but hasn't seen him there since the home invasion killings.

Komisarjevsky said his daughter has been told by her guardian not to talk about him.

"It should also be considered how her memorialized words will affect her emotionally and psychologically in the future if she believes she's party to assisting the effort to put me to death," he said.