Man condemned to death for Conn. home invasion

December 10, 2011 - 4:35 AM
Home Invasion

FILE - This March 14, 2011 file photo released by the Connecticut Department of Correction shows Joshua Komisarjevsky, convicted Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 on several counts related to the beating of Dr. William Petit Jr., and killing his wife Jennifer Hawke-Petit and there daughters in a July 2007 home invasion in Cheshire, Conn. A jury condemned Komisarjevsky to death on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, for the crimes. (AP Photo/Connecticut Department of Correction, File)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Jurors who condemned a Connecticut man to death for a brutal home invasion said each of them wept as they weighed the horrific brutality of the crime against the misfortune that the convict suffered is his own early life.

The jury deliberated over five days before voting Friday to send Joshua Komisarjevsky to death row, condemning him to the same fate as his accomplice who joined him in bursting into a house in 2007 and killing a woman and her two daughters after subjecting them to a night of terror.

One juror, Tashana Milton-Toles, told The Associated Press that some on the 12-member panel favored the death penalty more than others at the outset, but they all had mixed feelings.

"Everybody wanted to find a way to keep Joshua alive. That's why we cried," said Milton-Toles, a 29-year-old state investigator from West Haven. "I walked away feeling like I did the right thing, but it wasn't easy getting there.

"It was very intense. It was very emotional," she said.

Komisarjevsky and his accomplice Steven Hayes, tormented a family of four in the affluent New Haven suburb of Cheshire before killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and leaving her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, to die in a fire.

The sentencing verdict concluded two long trials that subjected jurors to grim evidence including charred beds, rope used to tie up the family and autopsy photos. The attack led to the defeat of a bill to outlaw the death penalty in Connecticut, sparked tougher state laws for repeat offenders and home invasions and drew comparisons the crime described in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," which documented the brutal murders of a Kansas farmer and his family.

New Haven Superior Court Judge Jon Blue thanked the jurors for their service on what he called an "emotionally searing" case.

Juror Ryan Festa told the AP he opposed the death penalty before the trial, and jurors explored several avenues to give him a life sentence without parole. But he said the heinous details of the crime ultimately persuaded him there was no alternative.

"It was like a slaughterhouse," said Festa, a 28-year-old wastewater operator from Wallingford. He said the trial itself was very stressful and left him wanting to spend time alone.

Komisarjevsky will join 10 other men on Connecticut's death row. The state has executed only one man since 1960, and the 31-year-old Komisarjevsky will likely spend years, if not decades, in prison.

The jury of seven women and five men, the same panel that convicted Komisarjevsky, sentenced him to death on each of six capital felony counts and took only slightly longer to reach a decision than Hayes' jury did.

Dr. William Petit, the only survivor of the attack, said justice was served and thanked some panel members after they returned the sentence. Petit said outside the courthouse that Komisarjevsky has never apologized for the 2007 home invasion, and he does not want to hear from him when he is formally sentenced by a judge at a hearing scheduled for Jan. 27.

"I don't want to hear from the man at all," said Petit, who was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up during the attack but escaped.

Hayes was convicted last year of raping and strangling Hawke-Petit and killing the girls. The girls died of smoke inhalation after they were tied to their beds and doused in gasoline before the house was set ablaze. Komisarjevsky was convicted Oct. 13 of the killings and of sexually assaulting Michaela.

The jurors heard 20 days of testimony from defense witnesses including psychologists, Komisarjevsky's parents and his sister. In arguing for a life sentence, his lawyers said his ultra-religious family never got him proper psychological help after he was repeatedly sexually abused as a child by his foster brother and his problems worsened.

"The only option he ever had was to go through life damaged," defense attorney Walter Bansley said in his closing argument.

A third juror, Timothy Anderson, said he was affected by the testimony about "horrendous" sexual abuse that Komisarjevsky suffered as a boy. He said he was one of the last holdouts for a life sentence before voting for execution, but he was always impressed with Petit's handling of the case.

"Dr. Petit was a hero to come down here every single day ... to advocate for his family," said Anderson, a 44-year-old New Haven social worker.

Defense attorneys said Komisarjevsky had been prepared for a death sentence.

"Joshua accepted the verdict with dignity and respectfully," attorney Jeremiah Donovan said.

Komisarjevsky did not testify during his trial but objected unsuccessfully to an effort by his attorneys to play a videotaped interview of his 9-year-old daughter. Speaking outside the presence of the jury, he said he didn't want his daughter to feel compelled to help "one of the most hated people in America."

Festa said jurors were upset by the girl's testimony.

"That was unfortunate, to see his daughter and what she'll have to go through her entire life, just one more victim in the whole Cheshire home invasion," he said.