Connecticut jury ponders death penalty in murder case

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 08, 2011 5:38 PM
Connecticut jury ponders death penalty in murder case

By Mary Ellen Godin

NEW HAVEN (Reuters) - A Connecticut jury on Thursday ended its fourth day of deliberating whether a man convicted of killing a mother and her two daughters in a grisly 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.

The jury in New Haven Superior Court began deliberations on Monday and has deliberated a total of 17 hours over the last four days. It was scheduled to resume on Friday.

The jury that sentenced Hayes to death deliberated for 17 hours over four days before reaching its unanimous decision.

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.

Petit has attended the trials of both men.

Outside the courthouse on Thursday he said he thinks the jury is trying to be careful "and do their job appropriately."

"It doesn't surprise us they are taking this long," he said.

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.

Ten men, including Hayes, are on the state's death row, according to the 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 defense attorneys also argued that Komisarjevsky's role in the home invasion was smaller than that of Hayes.

(Editing by Lauren Keiper, Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)