Jury deliberates death penalty in home invasion case

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2011 4:58 PM
Jury deliberates death penalty in home invasion case

NEW HAVEN (Reuters) - A Connecticut jury began deliberating on Monday whether a man convicted of killing a mother and her two daughters in a gruesome home invasion should be executed for his crimes.

The same 12-person panel convicted Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, in October of the 2007 murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her two daughters Hayley Petit, 17, and Michaela Petit, 11. The girls' father was the sole survivor of the attack.

Komisarjevsky's accomplice, Steven Hayes, was convicted separately of similar charges and has been sentenced to death.

"You have found the defendant guilty. You must now decide if he lives or dies," Judge Jon Blue told the jury in New Haven Superior Court. "Your responsibility is the most awesome that can be placed upon a jury in our system."

Komisarjevsky and Hayes were convicted of an attack that began after Komisarjevsky spotted Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her younger daughter in a supermarket and followed them to their home in Cheshire, Connecticut.

For several hours, the pair held the family captive, although at one point Hawke-Petit was forced to drive to a bank and withdraw $15,000.

After she returned, she was raped and strangled. The girls, tied to their beds, died of smoke inhalation as 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.

He has attended both men's trials. On Monday, he bowed his head and closed his eyes as the judge read the names of his wife and daughters when charging the jury.

Komisarjevsky sat between his defense attorneys and appeared to be following along with the jury's written instructions. His parents Benedict and Jude Komisarjevsky, who have attended the proceedings, were not in court.

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.

The jury can sentence Komisarjevsky, who was convicted of 17 charges including murder, kidnapping, arson and sexual assault, to life in prison without the possibility of parole or to die by lethal injection.

During six weeks of the sentencing phase of the case, 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 more than 40 mitigating factors arguing against a death sentence, which the jury must weigh against aggravating factors cited by prosecutors.

The mitigating factors included a biological predisposition to mood disorders, strict religious upbringing, sexual assault as a child, his parents and the state's inability to obtain clinical treatment for sexual assaults, mental health disorders and a series of concussions.

The defense attorneys also argued that Komisarjevsky's role in the home invasion was smaller than that of Hayes.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)