Prosecutors, defense rest in Conn. home invasion case after guard says suspect admitted murder

By John Christoffersen, AP
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Both sides rest cases in Conn. home invasion trial

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — One of two Connecticut men charged with killing a woman and her two daughters in a 2007 home invasion told another inmate he killed the mother after being pressured to do so by the other suspect in the case, a prison officer testified Tuesday before both sides rested.

Jeremiah Krob recounted the conversation in New Haven Superior Court at the trial of Steven Hayes, who along with Joshua Komisarjevsky is charged in the killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela. Prosecutors have said Hawke-Petit was strangled and her daughters died of smoke inhalation after the men set the house on fire.

Krob said Hayes recounted that he had taken Hawke-Petit to a bank to withdrew money while her family was held captive at their Cheshire home. When they returned home, Hayes put her in the den, Krob said. He was pacing between that room and the living room when Komisarjevsky told him he had to kill her, Krob recounted.

“Hayes said he didn’t know if he could do it,” Krob said, but told the other inmate he did kill her when he saw police cruisers outside the house.

Krob’s account followed testimony by a state police detective who said Hayes gave an emotionless confession in which he told authorities how he sexually assaulted the mother after Komisarjevsky told him he had to — to “square things up” — because the other man already had sexually assaulted one of the girls.

Krob said he overheard the inmates’ conversation in 2008 because Hayes was under suicide watch and being continuously monitored.

The officer testified Hayes said Komarisarjevsky, who is still awaiting trial, sexually assaulted Michaela, took cell phone pictures of her that he tried to e-mail to friends and doused her in gasoline. Krob said Hayes admitted pouring gas on the stairs but told the other inmate he didn’t believe he could be charged with arson because he didn’t light it.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys rested their cases Tuesday. The defense called two witnesses and read a statement from Hayes’ mother, Diane, who said Hayes left her house the night of the crime after saying he was waiting to hear from Komisarjevsky, who was putting his daughter to bed.

A Cheshire police officer called by the defense said he was on the scene for about 15 minutes when he saw the men fleeing the house. The officer said he tried to enter the house to rescue any occupants, but the fire was too intense.

The other defense witness testified it took him about 20 minutes to get from the Petit house to a nearby town where Hayes bought gasoline, according to earlier testimony.

It’s not clear why Hayes’ attorneys called those witnesses, but they have emphasized Komisarjevsky’s role, reminding the jury of the period when Hayes was out of the house.

Krob also testified that the other inmate asked Hayes if he believed Dr. William Petit, who was beaten with a baseball bat but survived the attacks on his family, was in on the scheme to get an insurance payment. Hayes said he thought about it and believed it was possible because he was surprised Petit had been able to free himself after being tied up. Hayes said he wondered if Komisarjevsky had loosened the knots to help him escape.

After Tuesday’s court session, Petit’s father-in-law, the Rev. Richard Hawke, said the words were “cruel and out of place.”

“The only thing I want to say is Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela were the most important people in my life,” Petit said after court on Tuesday, “and I really can’t dignify that insinuation with a response. I think the evidence put on by the prosecution speaks for itself.”

Authorities have never suggested Petit had any involvement. Petit testified earlier that he awoke on his couch the morning of the attacks and found two people standing near him, one holding a gun. He said he was beaten with a baseball bat, his wrists and ankles bound, and was tied to a post in his basement. He managed to free his hands, get up the stairs and crawl and roll to a neighbor’s house.

Earlier Tuesday, state fire investigator Paul Makuc testified that a gas-fueled arson blaze spread “in a very rapid, quick and violent manner” through the Petit house.

Makuc said the fire was so intense that firefighters had to retreat when they tried to enter the house. He said the blaze began in a family room where Hawke-Petit’s body was found and quickly spread to the second floor into the girls’ bedrooms. He earlier described evidence of the accelerant poured on Michaela and around Hayley.

Three plastic containers with gasoline traces were found in the house — including one under Hayley’s body in a second floor hallway where she had fled, Makuc said.

Under cross-examination, Makuc said the tests do not tell him who poured the gasoline.

Hayes gave an emotionless confession to a state police detective in which he said he went out and got the gas and had sexually assaulted Hawke-Petit, according to earlier testimony.

Jack Hubball of the state forensic lab testified the containers had gas and that tests confirmed gas on the clothes of Komisarjevsky and Hayes as well as on debris taken from the staircase.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday.

If Hayes is convicted, the same jury would weigh whether he should receive the death penalty in a separate penalty phase. Komisarjevsky goes on trial next year.

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