July 23, 2009
Attorneys for two men charged in a deadly 2007 home invasion in Cheshire said Tuesday that their clients have repeatedly offered to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences in prison in hopes of escaping the death penalty.
The attorneys, speaking at a hearing in New Haven Superior Court, said prosecutors have rejected the offer every time and want the death penalty for suspects Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, who have pleaded not guilty to capital felony, murder and other charges.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky are accused of breaking into a doctor’s home in an upscale Connecticut suburb, beating him and forcing his wife to withdraw thousands of dollars from a nearby bank before they strangled her.
Their daughters died of smoke inhalation from a fire police say the intruders set as they fled.
Both suspects were on parole after serving prison time for burglary. Their trial is scheduled for January.
“We have offered that (guilty plea) in every single status conference, including today, and it’s been rejected every single time, so don’t blame us,” said Hayes’ attorney, Thomas Ullmann. “We tried to end this matter.”
Defense attorneys said a trial, and appeals if their clients are convicted and sent to Connecticut’s death row, would cost millions and expose jurors to post-traumatic stress syndrome after hearing details of the July 23, 2007 crimes.
“It’s only the state’s insistence that death be the ultimate punishment to cause this case to last as long as it has,” said Komisarjevsky’s attorney, Jeremiah Donovan.
New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington declined to comment in court.
The judge has previously barred both sides from talking publicly about the case outside of court.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky are accused of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela. Hawke-Petit’s husband, Dr. William Petit, who practices in Plainville, was beaten but survived.
Gun permit applications in Cheshire, about 14 miles north of New Haven, jumped substantially after the Petits were attacked.
The shocking nature of the crimes prompted calls for reform of the state parole system and harsher penalties for people convicted of home invasion. The General Assembly passed new laws that lengthen prison sentences for repeat offenders and felons convicted of home invasion.
William Petit planned to speak in court, but did not after defense attorneys objected. Outside of court, Petit said the defendants should plead guilty and proceed to the penalty phase.
The prosecution has been ready with its case since March of 2008, Petit said, but the defense said it needed more time. He also noted the horrors of the crimes against his family, objected to efforts by a defense attorney to contact him and said victims get little financial assistance while the state spends millions on defense costs.
“I would suggest our system is out of kilter and victim’s rights are totally abused,” Petit said