Defense asks jury to spare Conn. killer

By John Christoffersen
Associated Press / November 4, 2010

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NEW HAVEN — A Connecticut man convicted of a deadly home invasion should be spared the death penalty because he was in a “state of intense rage, despair, and confusion’’ during the crimes and is deeply remorseful for what he did, his attorneys said yesterday.

Steven Hayes was convicted of murder last month in the slaying of a woman and her two daughters in a horrific home invasion in Cheshire in 2007.

His lawyers filed a list of mitigating factors in New Haven Superior Court yesterday. The same jury that convicted Hayes must now weigh those factors against aggravating factors cited by prosecutors, including the heinous and cruel nature of the deaths, in deciding whether to sentence Hayes to death or to life in prison.

The defense also cited Hayes’s history of childhood abuse and of drug addiction. Deliberations are expected to begin tomorrow, following closing arguments today.

Defense lawyers have depicted Hayes as a follower, while asserting that his codefendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, was the mastermind and was largely responsible for the killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters.

“Steven Hayes has responded subsequent to the crime with shame, humiliation, depression, suicidality, and empathy for the victims,’’ defense lawyer Tom Ullmann wrote in the court documents filed yesterday. “His response is sharp, in contrast to the codefendant’s, who has glorified in writing the exercise of violent criminal power and sexual abuse over the Petit family.’’

Prosecutors say both men are equally responsible.

The defense also pointed out Hayes accepted responsibility for his crimes early on and offered to plead guilty before the trial in exchange for a life sentence.

“Steven Hayes has a conscience and is remorseful,’’ Ullmann wrote.

Authorities said Hayes and Komisarjevsky broke into the Petit house, beat Hawke-Petit’s husband, William, with a baseball bat and forced her to withdraw money from a bank before Hayes strangled and sexually assaulted her. Their daughters, Michaela and Hayley, died of smoke inhalation after they were tied to their beds with pillowcases over their heads and doused with gasoline before the house was set ablaze, according to testimony.