Cheshire, Connecticut, home invasion murders
|Cheshire, Connecticut, home invasion murders|
The location of Cheshire within New Haven County, Connecticut
|Date||July 23, 2007|
|Home invasion, kidnapping, sexual assault, arson, murder|
The Cheshire, Connecticut, home invasion murders occurred on July 23, 2007. Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters were murdered, while her husband, Dr. William Petit, was injured during a home invasion in Cheshire, Connecticut. The Hartford Courant referred to the case as "possibly the most widely publicized crime in the state's history". 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. In August 2015, the state of Connecticut abolished the death penalty, which means that both Hayes and Komisarjevsky would have their death sentences turned into life sentences.
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. They picked up food for Jennifer's pre-birthday meal that Michaela planned to prepare for her. During the trip to the grocery store, they attracted the attention of Komisarjevsky, who followed them home.
Hayes messaged Komisarjevsky, "I'm chomping at the bit to get started. Need a margarita soon." Steven Hayes then texted, "We still on?" Komisarjevsky replied, "Yes." Hayes' next text asks, "Soon?", to which Komisarjevsky replied with "I'm putting the kid to bed hold your horses". Hayes then asserts "Dude, the horses want to get loose. LOL."
According to Hayes' confession, the two men had planned to rob the house under cover of darkness and flee the scene with the family bound, but unharmed. Hayes attributed the outcome of the event to a change in their plan. Upon their arrival in the early hours of July 23, they found William Petit sleeping on a couch on the porch. With a baseball bat that they had found in the yard, Komisarjevsky struck William on the head and then restrained him in the basement, at gunpoint. Following the restraining, the children and the mother were bound and locked in their respective rooms. Hayes says he and Komisarjevsky were not satisfied with their haul, and that a bankbook was found which had an available balance. Hayes convinced Jennifer to withdraw $15,000 from her line of credit when the bank opened.
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 entered this as evidence of premeditated murder. The defense entered arguments pertaining to the exact whereabouts of the containers, signaling foul play. The bank surveillance cameras captured the transaction which shows Hawke-Petit in 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 Hawke-Petit was still at the teller. The manager reported to the 911 dispatcher, in real time, as Hawke-Petit left the bank and was picked up by Hayes—describing his clothing as he drove away with Hawke-Petit. The manager stated that Hawke-Petit 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. The police used up more than half an hour taking these preliminary measures while the assailants were raping and murdering the women inside the house. The police made no contact with the occupants of the house, making no effort to make the assailants aware of a police presence.
During this time, Hayes and Komisarjevsky escalated the aggravated nature of their crimes: Komisarjevsky raped the 11-year-old Michaela. Komisarjevsky, who had photographed the sexual assault of the youth on his cell phone, then provoked Hayes to rape Hawke-Petit. While Hayes was raping Hawke-Petit on the floor of her living room, Komisarjevsky entered the room announcing that William Petit had escaped. Hayes then strangled Hawke-Petit, doused her lifeless body and parts of the house including the daughters' rooms with gasoline. The daughters, while tied to their beds, had both been doused with gasoline; each had her head covered with a pillowcase. A fire was then ignited, and Hayes and Komisarjevsky fled the scene. Hayley and Michaela both died from smoke inhalation.
William Petit had been able to free himself, escape his confines, and call to a neighbor for help. The neighbor indicated that he did not recognize Petit, 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."
Hayes and Komisarjevsky fled the scene using the Petit family car. They were immediately spotted by police surveillance, pursued by police, apprehended, and arrested one block away. 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. Each perpetrator was said to have blamed or implicated the other as the mastermind and driving force behind the spree. 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.
- 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.
- Hayley Petit (born October 15, 1989) had just graduated from Miss Porter's School and was scheduled to attend Dartmouth College. Hayley had been an active fundraiser for multiple sclerosis research, following Jennifer's diagnosis with that disease.
- Michaela Petit (born November 17, 1995) attended the Chase Collegiate School before her death.
- 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. 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. He contemplated running for Congress as a Republican, but later decided against it.
|Steven J. Hayes|
May 30, 1963 |
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|
|Born||August 10, 1980|
|Criminal penalty||Death sentence|
|Criminal status||Convicted of 17 out of 17 charges, including six capital felonies|
|Conviction(s)||Capital felony, sexual assault, murder, kidnapping, and arson|
Steven J. Hayes (born May 30, 1963, in Homestead, Florida) was found guilty on 16 out of 17 counts related to the home invasion murders on October 5, 2010. On November 8, 2010, the jury returned with a recommendation for Hayes to be executed by the State. He was formally sentenced to death by Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue on December 2, 2010.
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. He is incarcerated in the Northern Correctional Institution, which houses the state's death row for men, in Somers. The method of execution currently employed by Connecticut is lethal injection, and the state execution chamber is located in the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers. A sentence that became an automatic life sentence when Connecticut abolished the death penalty in 2015.
Joshua A. Komisarjevsky (born August 10, 1980) was Hayes' co-conspirator in the home invasion and murder. He was born in 1980 to a 16-year-old girl impregnated by a 20-year-old mechanic  and was adopted by Benedict Komisarjevsky, the son of theatrical director Theodore Komisarjevsky and dancer Ernestine Stodelle, and his wife Jude (née Motkya). Komisarjevsky remained incarcerated at the Walker Reception Center in lieu of a $15 million bond until his conviction. His trial began September 19, 2011, and on October 13, 2011, he was convicted on all 17 counts. On December 9, 2011, the jury recommended the death penalty. On January 27, 2012 Judge Jon Blue sentenced Komisarjevsky to death by lethal injection. A sentence that became an automatic life sentence when Connecticut abolished the death penalty in 2015.
Trials of the perpetrators
The jury in Hayes' case was composed of seven women and five men. In the guilt phase of the Hayes trial, the jury deliberated for about four hours to arrive at its guilty verdicts.
The second phase of the trial began on October 18, 2010, in which the jurors who found Hayes guilty decided if Hayes should be executed or face life imprisonment. The second day of jury deliberations started on November 6, 2010. Hayes' attorney Thomas Ullman told the jury that a sentence of life in prison would be the harshest possible punishment for Hayes, because he is 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."
On November 8, 2010, the jury returned with a recommendation for Steven Hayes to be executed by the State. The jury recommended a death sentence on each of the six capital felony counts for which Hayes was convicted. In the sentencing phase portion of the trial, the jury deliberated for about 17 hours over the course of 3½ days before arriving at its decision.
Hayes had previously attempted to receive a life sentence in a plea bargain. After the verdict, Hayes' 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."
The Connecticut state judicial branch, for the first time in state history, offered post-traumatic stress assistance to jurors who served in the triple-murder trial. Because the jurors were required to look at disturbing images and hear grisly testimony, during the two-month trial, their service necessitated these actions. A spokesperson confirmed that such post-traumatic assistance has never been done before by the state’s judicial branch.
On December 2, 2010, Hayes apologized for the pain and suffering he had caused to 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." Presiding Judge Jon Blue formally imposed six death sentences, one for each of the capital charges Hayes was convicted of; Blue then added a sentence of 106 years for other crimes Hayes committed during the home invasion, including kidnapping, burglary, and assault, 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." The judge also gave Hayes an official execution date of May 27, 2011; Blue said that this date was a formality, because if Hayes appeals his case, his execution could be delayed for decades. His death sentence was turned into a life sentence in August 2015 when the state of Connecticut abolished the death penalty.
Komisarjevsky was found guilty on October 13, 2011. On December 9, 2011, the jury recommended the death penalty. On January 27, 2012, Komisarjevsky was sentenced to death by lethal injection. During the hearing, Komisarjevsky insisted 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." Judge Blue set July 20, 2012, as Komisarjevsky's execution date. However, this date was a formality, because if Komisarjevsky appeals his case, his execution could be delayed for decades. His death sentence was turned into a life sentence in August 2015 when the state of Connecticut abolished the death penalty.
Subsequent developments in Connecticut capital punishment law
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. 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.
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.
In August 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors declared all capital punishment inconsistent with the state constitution, effectively commuting the killers' sentences to life imprisonment.
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 - a scholarship benefit. The same year, William Petit established the Michaela Rose Petit '14 Scholarship Fund of the Chase Collegiate School. He also established the Hayley's Hope & Michaela's Miracle MS Memorial Fund.
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.
On August 1, 2013, Petit told station WFSB that he and Paluf were expecting a child together. The baby who was revealed to be a boy and named William Petit III was born on November 23, 2013.
In October 2013, Petit announced that he was considering running for Congress for the Republican Party after being approached by the National Republican Congressional Committee, who had asked him if he'd be interested in running. Petit ultimately decided not to be a candidate.
Petit criticized the state's decision to abolish the death penalty in August 2015, commenting "I believe the court have overstepped its powers and urge it to give greater consideration to the emotional impact, particularly on victims and their loved ones that death penalty cases generate".
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|Photograph of Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky|
|Photograph of Petit family|
|Photo of burned bedroom|
- Petit Family Foundation
- Messages about the death of Hayley Petit – Miss Porter's School
- Miles for Michaela at the Internet Archive
- Statement of Governor M. Jodi Rell, on verdict in trial of Steven Hayes
- The Cheshire Murders documentary, HBO.com