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Conn. home invasion case going to jury

Joshua Komisarjevsky is accused in a home invasion in which a mother and her two daughters were killed. Joshua Komisarjevsky is accused in a home invasion in which a mother and her two daughters were killed.
By John Christoffersen
Associated Press / October 12, 2011

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NEW HAVEN - A man charged with killing a woman and her two daughters has been playing a “blame game’’ against his codefendant, but it took two men to carry out the brutal 2007 home invasion, a prosecutor told a jury yesterday.

Prosecutor Gary Nicholson said in his closing argument that Joshua Komisarjevsky was motivated not just by money but by his interest in Michaela Petit, 11, whom he spotted with her mother earlier at a supermarket. He is charged with sexually assaulting her.

“Michaela Petit, he was interested in her from the moment he saw her,’’ Nicholson said.

Jurors were expected to begin deliberations today.

Authorities say Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes broke into the Cheshire home, beat Dr. William Petit with a bat, tied up him and his family, and forced his wife to withdraw money from a bank. The house was doused in gas and set on fire, leading to the girls’ deaths from smoke inhalation.

Hayes was convicted last year of raping and strangling Jennifer Hawke-Petit and killing her daughters. He is on death row.

Komisarjevsky’s lawyers tried to delay closing arguments earlier in the day, saying Hayes wrote letters saying that he committed numerous other murders and rapes.

The lawyers cited letters from Hayes saying he killed 17 people in the Northeast and committed dozens of drugged date rapes. Letters to a woman in North Carolina were intercepted.

Hayes also says that he would have killed Komisarjevsky if they got away with the Connecticut crime, according to the defense motion.

Judge Jon Blue denied a request to delay closing arguments, saying the letters did not help Komisarjevsky’s case.

Hayes’s lawyer, public defender Thomas Ullmann, said yesterday that he had not seen the letters and had not previously heard of any statements by Hayes that he committed other killings and rapes. Ullmann declined to comment further. Prosecutors also declined to comment.

The three handwritten letters were written in August or September and detail how he raped and strangled women, according to a defense motion that calls the description “eerily similar’’ to what Hayes did to Hawke-Petit.

Defense lawyers say Hayes took the women’s sneakers to fulfill a sexual fantasy. Hayes’s sneaker fetish came out during his trial, and Komisarjevsky’s lawyers say women’s sneakers were seized from his house.

Komisarjevsky has insisted Hayes wanted to kill the family, and he blamed Hayes for pouring the gas and lighting the house on fire. Komisarjevsky said he did not intend that anyone die.

While the defense has tried to blame Hayes, prosecutors reminded the jury that the sole survivor testified there was one voice doing the talking during the crime. They cited examples in Komisarjevsky’s confession in which he says he was the one talking to William Petit.

“He’s the one who’s controlling the situation,’’ said State’s Attorney Michael Dearington. “He’s calling the shots.’’

Nicholson said that Hayes got lost when he went out to get the gas and that Komisarjevsky gave him directions back to the house when he knew the plan was to set the house on fire. If he had not directed Hayes back to the house, the family could have survived, he said.

“The defendant has been playing the blame game,’’ Nicholson said. “Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen; this is simply damage control on his part.’’

The break-in was planned by Komisarjevsky, who escalated the violence by attacking William Petit with a bat, Nicholson said.

The gas was poured in a way to ensure that the girls were killed, Nicholson said, pointing out that it was on the stairs that were the girls’ only escape route.

The girls suffered painful deaths and probably were screaming, knowing that the end was near, he said.

Nicholson said both men had a motive to kill the family because each had committed a sexual assault and was worried about his DNA being matched.

Jeremiah Donovan, the lawyer for Komisarjevsky, said that his client admitted molesting Michaela and assaulting her father, but that he never intended to kill anyone. He played a part of Komisarjevsky’s confession in which he says he told Hayes, “No one is dying by my hand today.’’

Donovan also said the jury should not be swayed by what Petit’s family wants. He pointed out that William Petit and his relatives sit a few feet from jurors.

“They stare at you,’’ Donovan said. “You know what they want. Put them out of your mind.’’

Donovan said Komisarjevsky should get a life sentence.

Komisarjevsky was sexually abused as a child and suffered multiple concussions and later turned to drugs, Donovan said.

A psychologist hired by the defense said that history increased his likelihood of criminal activity.

Donovan also criticized the police response, saying officers could have stopped Hayes on his way back from the bank or by taking other actions when they arrived at the house.

“Had they acted differently, this terrible tragedy might not have occurred,’’ Donovan said, adding that it was not a defense.

Donovan also said that Komisarjevsky closed the girls’ bedroom doors to give them more time to be rescued and suggested Hayley might have lived if she had climbed out a window. Hayley managed to untie herself but was found at the top of the staircase.