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Cheshire, Connecticut, home invasion murders

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Cheshire, Connecticut home invasion murders
Cheshire CT lg.PNG
The location of Cheshire within New Haven County, Connecticut
Location Cheshire, Connecticut
Date July 23, 2007
Target Petit family
Attack type
Home invasion, kidnapping, sexual assault, arson, murder
Weapons
Deaths 3
Non-fatal injuries
1
Perpetrators Steven Hayes
Joshua Komisarjevsky

The Cheshire, Connecticut home invasion murders occurred on July 23, 2007. Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters were raped and murdered, while her husband, Dr. William Petit, was injured during a home invasion in Cheshire, Connecticut.[1] The Hartford Courant referred to the case as "possibly the most widely publicized crime in the state's history".[2] In 2010, Steven Hayes was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death. His accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky, was found guilty on October 13, 2011, and sentenced to death on January 27, 2012.[3] In August 2015, the state of Connecticut abolished the death penalty. Therefore, those sentenced before this date will have their death sentences turned into life sentences.[4][5]

Background[edit]

Late in the afternoon of Sunday, July 22, 2007, 48-year-old Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her 11-year-old daughter Michaela Petit went to a local grocery store in Cheshire, Connecticut. They picked up food for Jennifer's pre-birthday meal that Michaela planned to prepare for her. During their trip to the grocery store, they attracted the attention of Joshua Komisarjevsky, who followed them home.[6][7]

Steven Hayes messaged Komisarjevsky: "I'm chomping at the bit to get started. Need a margarita soon." Hayes then texted, "We still on?" Komisarjevsky replied, "Yes." Hayes' next text asked, "Soon?", to which Komisarjevsky replied: "I'm putting the kid to bed hold your horses". Hayes then wrote: "Dude, the horses want to get loose. LOL."[8][9]

Home invasion[edit]

According to Hayes' confession, the two men had planned to rob the Petit house under cover of darkness leaving the family bound, but unharmed. Hayes attributed the outcome to a change of plan. Upon their arrival in the early hours of July 23, they found William Petit sleeping on a couch on the porch.[10] Komisarjevsky struck William on the head with a baseball bat found in the yard and then tied him up at gunpoint in the basement. The children and their mother were then bound and locked in their respective rooms.[1][11] Hayes said that he and Komisarjevsky were not satisfied with their haul, and that a bankbook was found which showed an available balance.

A gas station's video surveillance shows Hayes purchasing $10 worth of gasoline in two cans he had taken from the Petit home. After returning to the house, and unloading the gas, he took Jennifer to the bank. The prosecution later claimed that this was evidence of premeditated murder.[12] Hayes convinced Jennifer to withdraw $15,000 from her line of credit when the bank opened.[1][11] Bank surveillance cameras captured the transaction which shows Jennifer Hawke-Petit, on the morning of July 23, as she informed the teller of her situation. The bank manager then called 911 and reported the details to police while Jennifer was still with the teller. The manager reported to the 911 dispatcher, in real time, as Jennifer left the bank and was picked up by Hayes, describing his clothing as he drove away with her. The manager stated that Jennifer had indicated the assailants were "being nice", and she believed they only wanted money.

The Cheshire police response to the bank's "urgent bid" began with assessing the situation and setting up a vehicle perimeter.[13] The police dawdled for more than half an hour, taking these preliminary measures, while the assailants were raping and murdering the women inside the house.[14] The police made no effort to make the assailants aware of their presence.[14]

During this time, Hayes and Komisarjevsky escalated the aggravated nature of their crimes: Komisarjevsky raped the 11-year-old Michaela.[15][16] Komisarjevsky, who had photographed the sexual assault of the girl on his cell phone,[17] then provoked Hayes into raping Jennifer. While Hayes was raping her on the floor of the living room, Komisarjevsky entered the room and announced that William Petit had escaped. Hayes then strangled Jennifer, doused her lifeless body and parts of the house, including the daughters' rooms, with gasoline. While tied to their beds, both daughters had been doused with gasoline; each had her head covered with a pillowcase.[18] A fire was started, and Hayes and Komisarjevsky fled the scene. Hayley and Michaela both died of smoke inhalation.[19]

William Petit had been able to free himself, escape his confines, and call to a neighbor for help.[20] The neighbor indicated that he did not recognize him due to the severity of Petit's injuries. In court testimony, William Petit stated that he felt a "jolt of adrenaline" coupled with a need to escape upon hearing one of the perpetrators state: "Don't worry, it's going to be all over in a couple of minutes." Petit then told the jury, "I thought, it's now or never because in my mind at that moment, I thought they were going to shoot all of us."[21]

Hayes and Komisarjevsky fled the scene using the Petit family car. They were immediately spotted by police surveillance, pursued, and arrested one block away.[13] The whole invasion lasted seven hours.

The scenario was revealed in a confession by Hayes just hours after the killings. Detectives testified that Hayes smelled strongly of gasoline throughout the interrogation.[22] Each perpetrator blamed or implicated the other as the mastermind and driving force behind the spree.[23] There were even attempts to blame William Petit as an accomplice. Komisarjevsky later kept a diary, entered into evidence, in which he chose to call Petit a "coward" and claimed that he could have stopped the murders had he wanted to.[14][24]

Victims[edit]

Jennifer Hawke-Petit (born September 26, 1958) was a nurse and co-director of the health center at Cheshire Academy, a private boarding school. She met her husband, William Petit, in 1985 on a pediatric rotation at Children's Hospital when he was a third-year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh and she was a new nurse.[11] Their eldest daughter Hayley (born October 15, 1989) had just graduated from Miss Porter's School and was scheduled to attend Dartmouth College.[25] Hayley had been an active fundraiser for multiple sclerosis research, following Jennifer's diagnosis with that disease.[26] Daughter Michaela (born November 17, 1995) attended the Chase Collegiate School before her death.[27]

William Petit, the sole survivor of the home invasion, is an endocrinologist in Cheshire. He survived when he escaped via a direct external exit from the basement despite his injuries.[28] He has not returned to his medical practice since the murders, stating his desire to be active in the foundations set up to honor the memory of his deceased family.[19] He contemplated running for Congress as a Republican, but later decided against it.[29][30]

Perpetrators[edit]

Steven J. Hayes
Hayes, steven.jpg
Born (1963-05-30) May 30, 1963 (age 53)
Homestead, Florida, U.S.
Criminal penalty Six consecutive death sentences plus 106 years
Criminal status Convicted on 16 counts; sentenced to death on six counts of capital felony
Children One son and one daughter
Conviction(s) Capital felony, murder, sexual assault
Joshua A. Komisarjevsky
Komisarjevsky, joshua.jpg
Born (1980-08-10) August 10, 1980 (age 36)
Criminal penalty Six consecutive death sentences plus 140 years[31]
Criminal status Convicted of 17 out of 17 charges, including six capital felonies
Children One daughter
Conviction(s) Capital felony, sexual assault, murder, kidnapping, and arson

Steven J. Hayes (born May 30, 1963, in Homestead, Florida)[28] was found guilty on 16 of 17 counts related to the home invasion murders on October 5, 2010.[1] On November 8, 2010, the jury returned with a recommendation for him to be executed.[32] He was formally sentenced to death by Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue on December 2, 2010.[33]

Hayes is an inmate of the Connecticut Department of Correction. His criminal history shows him sentenced for his first offense at the age of 16.[28] Subsequent to sentencing and up until August 16, 2016 (when he was transferred to a correctional facility in Pennsylvania as part of an interstate corrections compact), he was incarcerated in the Northern Correctional Institution,[34] which houses the state's death row for men,[35] in Somers, Connecticut. The method of execution employed by Connecticut was lethal injection,[36] and the state execution chamber was located in the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers.[37] This sentence became an automatic life sentence when Connecticut abolished the death penalty in 2015.[38]

Joshua A. Komisarjevsky (born August 10, 1980) was Hayes' co-conspirator in the home invasion and murders. He was born in 1980 to a 16-year-old girl impregnated by a 20-year-old mechanic [39] and was adopted[40] by Benedict Komisarjevsky, the son of theatrical director Theodore Komisarjevsky and dancer Ernestine Stodelle, and his wife Jude (née Motkya).[41] Komisarjevsky remained incarcerated at the Walker Reception Center[42] in lieu of a $15 million bond[43] until his conviction. His trial began on September 19, 2011, and on October 13, 2011, he was convicted on all 17 counts.[44] On December 9, 2011, the jury recommended the death penalty.[45] On January 27, 2012 Judge Jon Blue sentenced Komisarjevsky to death by lethal injection.[3] His sentence also became an automatic life sentence when Connecticut abolished the death penalty in 2015.[38]

As of August 16, 2016, both Hayes and Komisarjevsky were transferred to separate prison facilities in Pennsylvania to serve their sentences. According to Connecticut state prison officials, the transfer was done as part of an interstate corrections compact due to reasons pertaining to safety and security.[46]

Trials[edit]

Hayes' trial[edit]

The jury in Hayes' case was composed of seven women and five men. Following the completion of the trial, the jury deliberated for about four hours to reach its guilty verdicts.

The second phase of the trial began on October 18, 2010, during which the jurors had to decide if Hayes should be executed or imprisoned for life.[1] The second day of these deliberations began on November 6, 2010.[47][48] Attorney Thomas Ullman told the jury that a sentence of life in prison would be the harshest possible punishment for his client Hayes, because he was so tormented by his crimes and would be isolated in prison. "Life in prison without the possibility of release is the harshest penalty," Ullman said. "It is a fate worse than death. If you want to end his misery, put him to death," he added. "If you want him to suffer and carry that burden forever, the guilt, shame, and humiliation, sentence him to life without the possibility of release."[48]

On November 8, 2010, the jury returned with a recommendation that Hayes be executed.[32] The jury recommended a death sentence on each of the six capital felony counts for which Hayes was convicted.[49] In the sentencing phase, the jury had deliberated for about 17 hours, over the course of three and a half days, before reaching a decision.

Hayes had attempted to negotiate a life sentence in a plea bargain.[18] After the verdict, his defense attorney stated: "Hayes smiled upon hearing the jury's recommendation of a death sentence." He then added: "He is thrilled. He's very happy with the verdict. That's what he's wanted all along."[50]

For the first time in state history, the Connecticut state judicial branch offered post-traumatic stress assistance to jurors, who served for two months on the triple-murder trial, because they had been required to look at disturbing images and hear grisly testimony.[51]

On December 2, 2010, Hayes apologized for the pain and suffering he had caused the Petit family and added that: "Death for me will be a welcome relief and I hope it will bring some peace and comfort to those who I have hurt so much."[52] Judge Jon Blue formally imposed six death sentences, one for each of the capital charges; Blue then added a sentence of 106 years for other crimes Hayes committed during the home invasion, including kidnapping, burglary, and assault,[53] before finishing with, "This is a terrible sentence, but is, in truth, a sentence you wrote for yourself in flames. May God have mercy on your soul."[54] The judge also gave Hayes an official execution date of May 27, 2011; Blue said that this date was a formality, because if Hayes appealed his case, his execution could be delayed for decades.[55] His death sentence became a life sentence in August 2015 when the state abolished the death penalty.

Komisarjevsky's trial[edit]

Komisarjevsky was found guilty on October 13, 2011. On December 9, 2011, the jury recommended the death penalty.[45] On January 27, 2012, Komisarjevsky was sentenced to death by lethal injection.[3] During the hearing, Komisarjevsky insisted that he did not intend to kill anyone and spoke about the shame, hurt and disappointment he had caused: "I will never find peace within. My life will be a continuation of the hurt I caused. The clock is now ticking and I owe a debt I cannot repay." He said that forgiveness was not his to have, "and he needs to forgive his worst enemy – himself."[56] Blue set July 20, 2012, as Komisarjevsky's execution date.[57] As with Hayes, Komisarjevsky's death sentence was turned into a life sentence in August 2015.

Subsequent developments in Connecticut capital punishment law[edit]

In 2009, the Connecticut General Assembly sent legislation to abolish the state's death penalty to Governor M. Jodi Rell ostensibly to be signed into law. However, on June 5, 2009, Rell vetoed the bill instead and cited the Cheshire murders as an exemplary reason for doing so.[58][59] On November 8, 2010, Rell issued the following statement regarding the jury's recommendation of a sentence of death for Hayes:

The crimes that were committed on that brutal July night were so far out of the range of normal understanding that now, more than three years later, we still find it difficult to accept that they happened in one of our communities. I have long believed that there are certain crimes so heinous, so depraved, that society is best served by imposing the ultimate sanction on the criminal. Steven Hayes stands convicted of such crimes – and today the jury has recommended that he should be subjected to the death penalty. I agree.[60]

On April 11, 2012, the Connecticut House of Representatives voted to repeal capital punishment for future cases (leaving past death sentences in place). The Connecticut Senate had already voted for the bill, and on April 25 Governor Dan Malloy signed the bill into law.[61] In August 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court declared all capital punishment inconsistent with the state constitution, effectively commuting the killers' sentences to life imprisonment.

Aftermath[edit]

In 2007, John Carpenter, an employee of the Chase Collegiate School, ran the New York City Marathon, raising $8,554 for the "Miles for Michaela" campaign[27] - a scholarship benefit.[62] The same year, William Petit established the Michaela Rose Petit '14 Scholarship Fund of the Chase Collegiate School.[63] He also established the Hayley's Hope & Michaela's Miracle MS Memorial Fund.[26]

On January 6, 2008, over 130,000 luminaria candles were lit in front of thousands of homes across Cheshire in "Cheshire Lights of Hope", a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis and a tribute to the Petit family. Founded by a local couple, Don and Jenifer Walsh, the event raised over $100,000 for Hayley's Hope and Michaela's Miracle Memorial funds.[64]

The murder, and its aftermath, were featured on the news magazine show Dateline NBC, in a segment entitled "The Family on Sorghum Mill Drive",[65] and on December 9, 2010, William Petit appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in a full-hour episode about the murders of his family and the work of the Petit Family Foundation.[66]

On August 5, 2012, Petit married Christine Paluf, and moved to Farmington, Connecticut.[67] He met her when she was volunteering with the Petit Family Foundation.[68]

HBO broadcast a documentary by filmmaker David Heilbroner called The Cheshire Murders about the murders on July 22, 2013.[69][70] On August 1, 2013, Petit told station WFSB that he and Paluf were expecting a child together.[71] The baby who was revealed to be a boy and named William Petit III was born on November 23, 2013.[72][73] In October 2013, Petit announced that he was considering running for Congress for the Republican Party[74][75] after being approached by the National Republican Congressional Committee, who had asked him if he would be interested in running.[74] Petit ultimately decided not to be a candidate.[76]

Petit condemned the state's decision to abolish the death penalty in August 2015, saying he believed the court had overstepped its powers and urging it to give greater consideration to the "emotional impact, particularly on victims and their loved ones" that death penalty cases generate.[77]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

External images
Photograph of Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky
Photograph of Petit family
Photo of burned bedroom