Jury hears closing arguments in home invasion sentencing

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2011 4:18 PM
Jury hears closing arguments in home invasion sentencing

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 Cheshire, 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 the 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 local supermarket and followed them home.

"He wanted more than money. He wanted a cute, vibrant, 11-year-old girl," Nicholson said. "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 Komisarjevsky struck Petit with a baseball bat.

The courtroom was crowded for the closing arguments. 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 two men do not sit together.

Defense attorneys were slated to make their closing statement following the prosecution.

During the several weeks of the case's penalty phase, family members, former friends, employers and psychological experts have testified about Komisarjevsky's upbringing and background.

The defense said he was a victim of sexual molestation 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 so-called mitigating factors arguing against a death sentence, which the jury must weigh against a series of aggravating factors cited by prosecutors.

The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Monday.

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 and Jerry Norton)