During closing arguments today, defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan called his client Joshua Komisarjevsky a "damaged man" who has confessed to crimes that would send him to prison for the rest of his life. "He was involved in crimes that shake our faith in humanity, but he did not intend for anyone to die," said Donovan.
Komisarjevsky is on trial for his role in the brutal home invasion that terrorized a Connecticut family and ended in the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. Hawke-Petit had been raped and strangled, and the two girls died of smoke inhalation after their house was set on fire.
Donovan told the jury that in order to find Komisarjevsky guilty of a capital crime – one for which he could be sentenced to death – they needed to find that he "intended" to kill the family. Komisarjevsky has confessed to sexually assaulting 11-year-old Michaela Petit, beating Dr. William Petit with a baseball bat, and breaking into the family home and tying the two girls to their beds and terrorizing them for hours.
In an impassioned plea, Donovan told the jury to think about the entirety of Komisarjevsky's actions that morning. After he beat Dr. William Petit with a baseball bat and tied him to a pole in the basement, Komisarjevsky loosened those ties and brought him several pillows to sit on. If you're going to murder someone, would you really try to make them more comfortable? asked Donovan.
The defense attorney played some of Komisarjevsky's 90-minute audiotaped statement to police in which he said, "I'm not killing anyone, that's not how it's going to go down." Donovan explained that his client's monotone voice on the tape -- which seems so shocking and callous -- was really just a reaction to Komisarjevsky knowing his life was over and having gone more than two days without sleep.
Donovan also urged the jury to ignore Petit's emotional testimony during the trial, because his memory was likely unreliable given the beating he sustained and colored by the time he had spent in court. In addition, Donovan asked the jurors not to be swayed by the "big, good-looking upper-middle-class family" who spent day after day listening to testimony in court. "Put them out of your mind," said Donovan.
Hayes the Murderer, Not Komisarjevsky, Lawyer Tells Jury
But Donovan also told the jury, as he paced back and force across the room, that they should consider all the "what-ifs" in this case. For instance, during testimony the defense argued that the girls might have survived had the police chosen to enter the home before they did. Law enforcement officers testified that after they arrived at the scene, the heat of the fire prevented them from going inside. "What if they'd acted quicker?" said Donovan, who repeatedly referred to his client as Joshua throughout his closing arguments.
Donovan urged the jurors to read closely Dr. Leo Shea's neuropsychological report on Komisarjevsky, which detailed a difficult childhood that included being raped by a foster brother at the age of 5 and a series of head injuries and a stint of heavy drug use that compromised his ability to think and act clearly, according to the report. Komisarjevsky's family, said Donovan, tried to "drive the devil out" by using religion to treat his varied psychological problems.
It was those psychological problems, and Komisarjevsky's inability to react quickly and make decisions, that prevented him from helping the family when events started to spiral out of control. "Because he didn't act quickly doesn't mean he intended for the women to die," said Donovan, who told the jury that intent and reasonable doubt will be crucial factors in their deliberations.
Donovan argued that his client did not intentionally plan to kill anyone. During the last minutes of his summation, Joshua Komisarjevsky stood in court as Donovan showed a mug shot of Steven Hayes to the jury and told it that Hayes was responsible for the murders, not Komisarjevsky.
Komisarjevsky's father, Benedict, his mother, Judge, and his sister, Naomi, were all in court today to listen to closing arguments.
During his closing, State's Attorney Gary Nicholson told the jury that "it took two people to commit these crimes" and that it was Joshua Komisarjevsky who started the ball rolling by following Jennifer Hawke-Petit and Michaela home from the grocery store. Komisarjevsky, said Nicholson, was just as responsible as Hayes for the gasoline being poured in the home and for the fire that led to the girls' deaths. "They had a shared goal to destroy the evidence, and, in the process, a family," said Nicholson.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations later this week.