State counters view killer could not control himself

By John Christoffersen
Associated Press / November 3, 2010

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NEW HAVEN — Prosecutors seeking the death penalty for a Connecticut man convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters during a home invasion called their first witnesses yesterday as they tried to challenge his assertion that he flew into a rage after a codefendant told him the girls were dead.

A jury is hearing testimony before deciding whether Steven Hayes should get a life sentence or the death penalty for killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters in 2007. His codefendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, will be tried next year.

The girls died of smoke inhalation after the men set the house on fire, authorities said.

A psychiatrist called by the defense testified earlier that Hayes told him he strangled and then raped the woman in a rage that was triggered when Komisarjevsky told him he had killed the girls while Hayes was at a bank with the mother, forcing her to withdraw money.

The defense is arguing that Hayes was in an extreme emotional state that impaired his ability to control himself.

Prosecutors are trying to show that Hayes knew the girls were still alive when he returned from the bank. They called a State Police detective who testified that Hayes told him he saw one of the girls had changed her clothing when he returned from the bank.

The defense argues Hayes was referring to the change of clothing after he went out to get gas to set the house on fire, not a later period when he returned from the bank. They questioned the detective about differences between his report and notes he took when he interviewed Hayes after the crime.

Closing arguments are tentatively scheduled for tomorrow.