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Invader given six death sentences

Nov. 9, 2010

By John Chirstoffersen
Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A Connecticut man was condemned to death Monday for a night of terror inside a suburban home in which a woman was strangled and her two daughters tied to their beds and left to die in a gasoline-fueled fire.

Jurors in New Haven Superior Court voted unanimously to send Steven Hayes to death row after deliberating more than four days. Judge Jon Blue will impose the sentence on Dec. 2.

"You have been exposed to images of depravity and horror that no human being should have to see," Blue said in thanking the jurors for their service.

The foreman of a jury that sentenced a Connecticut man to death for a deadly home invasion says jurors were "disgusted" and "horrified" by the evidence.

Thirty-five-year-old New Haven resident Ian Cassell said some jurors were initially "on the fence" about whether to sentence Steven Hayes to life in prison or death.

He says jurors were divided over the 47-year-old Hayes' claim he wanted a death sentence.

Dr. William Petit, the husband and father of the victims, said the verdict was not about revenge.

"Vengeance belongs to the Lord," Petit said. "This is about justice. We need to have some rules in a civilized society."

Hayes' attorneys had tried to persuade jurors to spare him the death penalty by portraying him as a clumsy, drug-addicted thief who never committed violence until the 2007 home invasion with a fellow paroled burglar.

They called the co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, the mastermind and said he escalated the violence.

But prosecutors said both men were equally responsible and that the crime cried out for the death penalty, saying the family was tormented for seven hours before they were killed.

Defense attorney Tom Ullmann said Hayes, who had attempted suicide while incarcerated, smiled at the verdict.

"He is thrilled with the verdict. That's what he wanted all along," Ullmann said.

Hayes will join nine other men on Connecticut's death row. The state has only executed one man since 1960, so Hayes will likely spend years, if not decades, in prison.

Komisarjevsky will be tried next year. Prosecutors rejected offers by both men to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences, their attorneys have said.

Authorities said Hayes and Komisarjevsky broke into the house, beat William Petit, and forced his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, to withdraw money from a bank while the rest of her family remained under hostage at home.

Hayes then sexually assaulted and strangled her, authorities said. Komisarjevsky, who will be tried next year, is charged with sexually assaulting their 11-year-old

daughter, Michaela.

Michaela and her 17-year-old sister, Hayley, were tied to their beds and had gasoline poured on or around them before the men set the house on fire, according to testimony. The girls died of smoke inhalation.

The crime, which drew comparisons to the 1959 killings portrayed in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," was so unsettling that it became a key issue in the death penalty debate in the governor's race and led to tougher Connecticut laws for repeat offenders and home invasions.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell cited the home invasion case when she vetoed a bill that would have abolished the death penalty.

Petit said he cried at the verdict, thinking of the tremendous loss.

"Michaela was an 11-year-old little girl tortured and killed in her own bedroom, surrounded by stuffed animals," he said, his voice cracking.

Petit said his older daughter, Hayley, had a great future, and his wife, a nurse, had helped many children at the hospitals where she worked.

To determine Hayes' punishment, the jury weighed so-called aggravating factors cited by prosecutors, including the heinous and cruel nature of the deaths, against mitigating factors argued by Hayes' attorneys.

Dolores Carter, one of the jurors, told The Associated Press on Monday that she was tired and mentally exhausted.

"It was a very hard decision. It's not easy to put someone's life on the line," Carter said.

Ullmann had suggested prison would be more harsh than death for Hayes. Hayes told a psychiatrist he had repeatedly tried to kill himself after the crime because he felt guilty and remorseful and feared isolation in prison the rest of his life.

Hayes' attorneys focused heavily on Komisarjevsky, even calling a witness who said his "completely dead eyes" made him look like the devil.

Prosecutors said it was Hayes who initiated the crime, citing his confession to police in which he said he called Komisarjevsky shortly before the crime because he was financially desperate. They also noted that Hayes took Hawke-Petit to the bank to withdraw money, raped and strangled her, bought the gasoline and poured it in the house.

During the trial, jurors heard eight days of gruesome testimony, saw photos of the victims, charred beds, rope, ripped clothing and ransacked rooms.

Hayes was convicted of six capital felony charges, three murder counts and two charges of sexually assaulting Hawke-Petit.

The capital offenses were for killing two or more people, the killing of a person under 16, murder in the course of a sexual assault and three counts of intentionally causing a death during a kidnapping.

Hayes was sentenced to death for all six.