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September 23, 2011

The Judicial Circus Surrounding the Petit Family

by Anne Paddock

On July 23, 2007, Steven Hayes, 44 and Joshua Komisarjevsky, 26 broke into the Cheshire, Connecticut home of the Petit family:  Dr. William Petit, Jr., 50, his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and their two daughters: Hayley, 17, and Micaela, 11.  After beating Dr. Petit and tying him up in the basement, the two intruders tied the two daughters to their beds.

Mrs. Hawke-Petit was taken to the bank in the morning and told to withdraw $15,000 which she did while alerting the teller her family was being held hostage. Upon arriving back at the house, Mrs. Hawke-Petit was raped by Mr. Hayes, strangled, doused with gasoline and set on fire. The girls were also doused with gasoline and the house was set on fire.  The bank notified the Cheshire police who blocked the roads into the neighborhood and upon approaching the house saw flames but were unable to enter the house.  Both girls perished along with their mother – Micaela still tied to her bed; Hayley, collapsed at the top of the steps.

Dr. Petit escaped through a basement egress door and crawled to his neighbor, who also notified the police.  Mr. Hayes and Mr. Komisarjevsky were caught leaving the Petit house when they crashed their car into a police cruiser and were arrested. Meanwhile, Dr. Petit was taken to the hospital, given transfusions for loss of blood and treated for his serious injuries. He was the sole survivor.

Mr. Hayes and Mr. Komisarjevsky were convicted felons on parole when they committed the Petit family home invasion and murders.  Both admitted to the various crimes but each blamed the other as the cause of the deaths. Three years after the murders in September, 2010 Steven Hayes was brought to trial and represented by 2 court appointed public defenders.  Charged with 17 crimes including capital murder, Hayes was convicted of 16 of the charges and later sentenced to death after the jury voted to impose the death penalty.

Mr. Komisarjevsky’s trial started a few days ago on September 19, 2011 and he is being defended by 3 attorneys appointed by the court. However, the attorneys are not public defenders; they are private sector criminal defense attorneys who were appointed because of the cross blame defense that each defendant proclaims:  Mr. Hayes blamed Mr. Komisarjevsky for “things getting out of hand” and Mr. Komisarjevsky blames Mr. Hayes, saying he “didn’t intend to kill anyone” when he broke into the home and sexually assaulted Micaela. In essence, one office cannot represent both defendants when each defense is blaming the other defendant so the public defenders office could only defend Mr. Hayes.

The three defense attorneys representing Mr. Komisarjevsky: Jeremiah Donovan, Mr. Walter C Bansley, III, and Todd Bussert have a history of criminal defense in Connecticut and were recommended by the Public Defenders Office at a rate of $100 an hour for Mr. Donovan and Mr. Bansley, and $75 an hour for Mr. Bussert (with no limit except the number of hours in the day). These wages may sound “low” by attorney standards but the lawyers have made hundreds of thousands of dollars off this case at taxpayer’s expense.

The trial isn’t really about guilt. Both men admitted so much when taken into custody. And, both sets of attorneys offered to plead guilty for life in prison but the prosecution rejected the offer because the heinous nature of the crimes warranted the death penalty. The court proceedings, although well-intentioned are a stage show in how the judicial system operates.

Access to a court appointed attorney is a defendant’s right in this country under the 6th Amendment. A defendant is innocent until proven guilty and provided counsel at taxpayer’s expense if indigent. But what about the defendant caught in the commission or leaving the scene of a crime and probably most damning of all, what about the defendant that admits involvement and guilt but only if he can dictate the sentence? The defendant is still guaranteed a defense attorney under our legal code.  The question begs:  Why is Mr. Komisarjevsky entitled to three criminal defense attorneys that have cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to date with the bill climbing every day?  And, why did the State need three years to bring Mr. Hayes to trial and four years to bring Mr. Komisarjevsky to trial?

Even if each defendant blames the other, the fact remains that both men were adults and provided they weren’t insane at the time (which they weren’t), each is responsible for the decisions he made. Each man chose to invade the house; no one forced them. Mr. Komisarjevsky beat Dr. Petit with a baseball bat; Mr. Hayes took Jennifer Hawke-Petit to the bank and ordered her to withdraw $15,000; Mr. Hayes raped Jennifer Hawke-Petit and strangled her while Mr. Komisarjevsky watched her beg for her life;  Mr. Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted Micaela and took pictures of her on his cell phone; both participated in dowsing the victims and the house with gasoline and setting the fire so honestly, it doesn’t matter who poured the gasoline and who lit the match because the outcome doesn’t change. Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley and Micaela are gone and Mr. Petit will never have his wife back, watch his daughters grow up, or be a grandfather.

Dr. Petit is a broken man.  He stopped practicing medicine and moved in with his parents. He had his family home razed and turned into a park to honor his wife and daughters.  Dr. Petit also started the Petit Family Foundation (www.petitfamilyfoundation.org) to protect and help those affected by violence. Hayley was 17 years old and a recent graduate of Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, CT with plans to start Dartmouth College in the Fall of 2007. Hayley would be 21 now and recently graduated from college presumably starting her career. Micaela, 11 at the time of her death, would be 15 and a high school student.  Jennifer Hawke-Petit would be 52 years old had she survived.

I’m guessing all the judicial proceedings are being conducted the way they are because of ourcore belief in the sanctity of life.  We don’t want to convict an innocent man but innocence is not the issue in the Petit trials.  The death penalty is the issue and honestly, the debate about the death penalty belongs in the Connecticut General Assembly, not in the courthouse.  Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky never gave Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters a choice.  They don’t deserve a choice either.
Epilogue:  Joshua Komisarjevsky was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death. In his statement to the court, he did not accept responsibility for the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, Hayley Petit, and Micaela Petit. He is appealing the verdicts.

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