Conn. home invasion killers close by on death row

AP News
Posted: Dec 13, 2011 6:26 PM
Conn. home invasion killers close by on death row

Two men condemned to die for killing a mother and her two daughters in a home invasion will be in the same prison for the first time since the 2007 crime, but their attorneys and experts say they are likely to have little, if any, interaction.

A jury decided Friday that Joshua Komisarjevsky should face death by lethal injection. His accomplice, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death last year.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky blamed each other for escalating the crime, but prosecutors say it took both men to carry out the killings.

"I don't think any interaction between Hayes and Joshua would be pleasant," said Jeremiah Donovan, Komisarjevsky's attorney. "That would be a very unpleasant conversation. Josh harbors a deep bitterness toward Hayes."

Hayes raped and strangled Jennifer Hawke-Petit, while Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted her 11-year-old daughter, Michaela. Michaela and her 17-year-old sister, Hayley, were tied to their beds, were doused in gas and died of smoke inhalation after the house was set on fire.

Komisarjevsky beat the girls' father, Dr. William Petit, with a bat and tied him up. Petit escaped to a neighbor's house to get help.

Connecticut has executed only one man since 1960, and the 31-year-old Komisarjevsky and the 48-year-old Hayes will likely spend years, if not decades, in prison.

Komisarjevsky is in a medical unit, his attorneys said, noting that's standard procedure for a few days after such verdicts to make sure inmates don't harm themselves. He and Hayes will be about five cells from each other, his attorney Walter Bansley said.

Prison officials wouldn't say how close their cells will be at the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, near the Massachusetts border, but a defense attorney who has seen death row said the 11 condemned inmates are kept isolated.

"They might as well be in different states," said attorney Jim Nugent, who represented a death row inmate who challenged conditions unsuccessfully more than a decade ago. "They are going to have zero interaction."

Hayes and Komisarjevsky might catch a glimpse of each other if one is brought past the other's cell to take a shower, Nugent said. Death row inmates in adjacent cells might be able to yell to each other through heat vents, but communication would be difficult because the area is very noisy, he said.

Prison officials would likely keep the pair as far apart as possible, Nugent said. Years ago, death row inmates were allowed to be together in a day room where they could play chess or watch TV, but that practice was eliminated, Nugent said.

Brian Garnett, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Correction, said death row inmates don't have group activities. He said the only exception is there may be more than one prisoner in separate enclosures in the recreation yard at one time.

Death row is one of several pods that branch off the main hallway at Northern. All inmates there take meals in their cells, where they spend about 22 hours a day.

Death row inmates have a pastoral visit once a week and three one-hour social visits a week, Garnett said last year when Hayes was sentenced to death.

They are allowed two hours of recreation outside their cell six days a week. One hour typically is spent indoors, in an area that houses a law library and the phone. The other is spent alone outside, in a courtyard, inside a cage similar to a dog kennel.

Tom Ullmann, a public defender who represented Hayes, also said any interaction between the pair is unlikely. He said death row inmates are isolated 23 hours per day and he doesn't believe Hayes comes out of his cell except to take a shower.

Hayes' defense portrayed him as remorseful and suicidal after the crime, though prosecutors suggested it was a ploy. Ullmann said he wasn't aware of any further suicide attempts by Hayes since his death sentence.

"I think he's doing pretty badly," Ullmann said. "It's a pretty oppressive existence."

Hayes has been subject to verbal abuse by prison staff, Ullmann said. Garnett declined to comment, citing a court-imposed gag order in the home invasion case.

Still, Ullmann said Hayes and Komisarjevsky, who were paroled burglars at the time of the crime, are safer on death row than in the general population.

"There's no question they'd be killed pretty quickly," Ullmann said. "They're blamed for parole being shut down. They're essentially hated by everybody, inmates and correctional officers alike. Their existence is as oppressive as you could get."