Jury sentences man convicted in Connecticut home invasion, murder to death

A MAN convicted of the brutal murders of three members of a Connecticut family was sentenced to death today for killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley, and Michaela.

Steven Hayes was sentenced to death after four days of jury deliberations for raping and strangling pediatric nurse Hawke-Petit, 48, and helping to burn alive her daughters, who had been tied to their beds and doused with petrol.

Hayes, 47, had never denied his involvement in the home invasion, rape and eventual murders. His lawyers argued at trial, however, that he did not foresee that the home invasion would escalate into rape, murder and arson.

Hayes and his accomplice forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw $15,000 from her bank after tying up her family at their home in Chesire, Conn. She was later raped and strangled and her husband, the only survivor, William Petit, was severely beaten. Both girls were alive when their beds were set on fire and died of smoke inhalation.

Following the jury’s verdict, William Petit called the decision just, but added that it did not bring him any feeling of closure, noting that the crimes have left a gaping, jagged hole in his life.

“I was glad for the girls there was justice but mostly I was sad for the loss we have all suffered,” said Mr Petit.

He was critical that three years had passed since the deaths of his wife and daughters. Mr Petit said other states bring capital cases to trial within 18 months.

“They were caught at the scene of the crime,” he noted. “The evidence was overwhelming.” Three years of waiting, he explained, included a lot of worry and anxiety and many sleepless nights.

Defence lawyers had claimed that Hayes was the less violent of the two men involved in the spree of violence. Joshua Komisarjevsky, who will stand trial for the murders next year, was portrayed as the mastermind of the crime and Hayes as the follower by defense lawyers.

The jury appeared to struggle with its decision. They sent a note to the judge on Friday that they could not reach a unanimous verdict on Hayes’ punishment. After deliberating through the weekend, they jury agreed on a death sentence for all six capital crimes of which he had been convicted.

The long trial and deliberations appeared to take their toll on the jury. Several jurors wiped away tears, and two broke down crying, as their decision was read today.

In sending Hayes to death row, the jury rejected the notion that Hayes should be sent to prison for life because he was mentally impaired. Had they come to the conclusion that his drug addiction and history of sexual and physical abuse impaired his decision-making capacity, they would have had to opt for life in prison.

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