Steven Hayes’ Trial Begins, What to Expect


On July 23, 2007, two men broke into 300 Sorghum Mill Drive in Cheshire.

They injured Dr. William Petit, raped and strangled his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, then raped, tied up and set fire to the beds of his daughters, Hayley and Michaela.

Within hours, the house goes up in flames and police arrest two suspects -- Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky.

“These appear to been the most unbelievable painful deaths imaginable,” said state Rep. Michael Lawlor, who is the chairman of the legislature's Judiciary Committee, a former state prosecutor and a criminal justice professor at University of New Haven.

Over the next two and half years, records reveal that Komisarjevsky has a record of breaking into homes, that Hayes is a petty thief and that both men were out on parole the night of the murders.

The two men will be tried separately and Lawlor, who provided his expert opinion on what to expect during Hayes trial, said years were added to this process when a judge ruled to have separate trials.

Hayes will be tried first, and it begins on Monday.

“These death penalty cases are predictably complicated and one thing you know for sure is, they take a long time. Every possible argument you can imagine will be made and court has to take them very seriously,” Lawlor said.

So far that's been the case.

Jury selection for Hayes trial began in January and went on for six months. Meanwhile, there has been constant legal wrangling and several hearings.

“We had an apparent suicide attempt by the defendant (Hayes). You had the prosecutors making a motion to consolidate the two defendants and try them together. You've had the defense attorneys arguing that a book (that) was published somehow prevents their client from getting a fair trial,” Lawlor said.

The book he is referring to is "In the Middle of the Night," a book author Brian McDonald wrote detailing the murders. He interviewed Komisarjevsky.

There was also a gag order preventing the state prosecutor and Hayes defense team, Thomas Ullman and Patrick Culligan, from talking about the case.

But the order doesn’t apply to Dr. Petit, who has spoken to reporters after almost every hearing -- his pain and frustration growing with each delay.

In January he said, “The Petit and Hawke families are just very happy that the proceedings are finally beginning in earnest.

By July, his tone had changed. He said he was, “annoyed when the defense gets up and talks about decency when they’re defending two people who strangled a woman with Multiple Sclerosis and tied a 17 and an 11-year-old to their beds and set the house on fire.”

But Lawlor says the worst is yet to come.

“The United States Supreme Court says you have to prove how bad it really was in excruciating details so ultimately this entire trial will be about how bad were these murders,” he said.

Lawlor said those details include pictures of the scene and the murdered women and forensic evidence that investigators used to determine which of the men raped which of the women.

“We’re talking about two children. Two young girls who were raped and set on fire while they were still alive after listening to their mother being raped and murdered downstairs,” Lawlor said.

Last week, Judge Jon Blue, who's presiding over the trial, outlined what else we'll see and hear during the trial, including testimony from a neighbor, the Cheshire police 911 dispatcher and the teller from the Bank of America who called for help.

It's alleged that the suspects forced Jennifer to withdraw money from the bank before killing her.

Finally Dr. Petit will take the stand, but only once. Throughout all of it, Dr. Petit will be allowed to remain in court.

Because the trial will be done in two phases, first the guilty or innocent phase then the death penalty phase, Lawlor said, Hayes trial alone could take up to six months.

“This is like the legal equivalent of a space shuttle launch. Any little thing that goes wrong could blow up the whole process,” he said.

The process, he said, could include appeals or mistrials, motions and more delays and could take years.

You can follow the trial on Twitter as Diana Perez offers updates from the trial.

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