Connecticut prosecutor seeks execution in home invasion

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2011 7:38 PM
Connecticut prosecutor seeks execution in home invasion

By Mary Ellen Godin

NEW HAVEN, Conn (Reuters) - A man convicted of a brutal home invasion caused "physical pain, psychological pain, suffering and torture" for his victims and should be executed for his crimes, a Connecticut prosecutor argued on Friday.

Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, one of two men found guilty in the 2007 Connecticut attack, faces the death penalty for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her two daughters Hayley Petit, 17, and Michaela Petit, 11.

His accomplice Steven Hayes was convicted separately of similar charges and has been sentenced to death.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes created an "ultimate house of horrors that lasted seven hours ending in a hellish inferno," state prosecutor Gary Nicholson told a jury deciding if Komisarjevsky should die by lethal injection or spend life in prison without parole.

The same 12-person panel in New Haven Superior Court convicted Komisarjevsky in October of murder, kidnapping, arson and sexual assault.

Nicholson said it was Komisarjevsky, not Hayes, who was a career home burglar and who spotted Jennifer Hawke-Petit and the younger girl at a supermarket and followed them home.

"He wanted more than money. He wanted a cute, vibrant, 11-year-old girl," Nicholson said in a crowded courtroom. "For the next seven hours the family went through physical pain, psychological pain, suffering and torture."

Jennifer Hawke-Petit was raped and strangled and the girls, tied to their beds, died of smoke inhalation after the home was set on fire. The younger girl was sexually assaulted.

The sole survivor of the attack, Dr. William Petit, was badly beaten and tied up in the basement but managed to escape as the house went up in flames.

Nicholson told the jury, which is expected to begin deliberations on Monday, that Komisarjevsky struck Petit with a baseball bat.

Defense lawyer Walter Bansley III in his closing statement appealed to the jury's sense of "justice and mercy," urging the panel to consider testimony from a stream of witnesses who testified about Komisarjevsky's troubled past.

"Don't proceed to judgment without knowledge," Bansley told the jury. "It's about the process by which the infant became the baby who became the toddler who became the adolescent... and the young man who became the damaged individual who sits before you."

Petit, who has attended both men's trials, kept his head bowed as Nicholson spoke.

The convicted killer's father, Benedict Komisarjevsky, and his uncle, Christopher Komisarjevsky, who is the retired chief executive of public relations firm Burson-Marstellar, and his wife also attended.

The defense said Komisarjevsky was molested as a child and that his extremely religious parents relied on prayer and failed to get him clinical help for his troubled behavior.

The defense presented a list of 43 mitigating factors arguing against a death sentence, which the jury must weigh against a series of aggravating factors cited by prosecutors.

Connecticut has only executed one person, in 2005, since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)