Connecticut Petit Home Invasion Judge Denies Mistrial

PHOTO: This March 14, 2011 photo released by the Connecticut Department of Correction shows Joshua Komisarjevsky.
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The judge presiding over a triple homicide case in Connecticut denied today the alleged killer's request for a mistrial after the victims' family caused a commotion while exiting the courtroom en masse Wednesday.

In full view of jurors, the Petit family filed out of the court just before Connecticut's chief medical examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, was slated to deliver graphic testimony regarding the autopsy of 11-year-old Michaela Petit.

The bodies of Michaela, mother Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and sister Hayley Petit,17, were found in the charred remains of the Petit's suburban home in Cheshire, Conn., July 23, 2007. Dr. William Petit was the sole survivor.

Attorneys for defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, immediately asked Judge Jon C. Blue for a mistrial after the family walkout. Defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan called the move a "stunt" and said it was highly prejudicial to his client.

Blue denied the motion this morning and said courtroom 6A, like all courtrooms, is a public space where people are free to come and go. This was not the first time Petit family members, including William Petit, have left the courtroom en masse. On Monday, before another medical examiner testified to the manner in which Hayley died, at least 10 family members left the courtroom as well.

With the efforts to declare a mistrial out of the way, Dr. Susan Williams, a Connecticut associate medical examiner, took the stand this morning to discuss her autopsy findings on the body of Hawke-Petit. This time, the Petit family had already left the courtroom.

Dental records were used to identify Hawke-Petit's body, Williams said, because it "had been burned beyond recognition." Cloth was found around Hawke-Petit's neck and her charred jeans and underwear were down around her knees. Some of the clothing has been seared to her body.

Prosecutor Michael Dearington asked Williams whether she could determine the cause of death. Williams said she found fractures in Hawke-Petit's neck and declared the cause of death as "asphyxia from strangulation." Williams could not say whether the fractures were caused manually -- by hands -- or by a ligature, in this case a stocking.

The family had been held hostage and tied up for hours. Jennifer Hawke-Petit had been raped and strangled. If convicted, Komisarjevsky could face the death penalty. His accomplice, Steven Hayes, was convicted last year and is on Connecticut's death row.

Prosecutor Michael Dearington asked whether Williams could determine how long Hawke-Petit might have been alive during the strangulation and Williams estimated that it was likely she was conscious for a "short while."

Williams also told the jury that Hawke-Petit's death was not accidental and that it could not be attributed to the fire that almost destroyed the family home.

"There was no soot from smoke in her lungs," Williams said, which confirmed her finding that Hawke-Petit was dead before the fire consumed the family home.

In his audio taped statement released to the public earlier in this week. Komisarjevsky told police that he saw Hayes coming out of a room in the Petit family home and saw Hawke-Petit sprawled out half on a loveseat, half on the floor with her pants around her ankles. Komisarjevsky said his EMT training led him to conclude the woman was dead.

Komisarjevsky's defense maintains that Hayes was the one who decided to kill the Petit women. And that Hayes was responsible for pouring gasoline in the house and lighting the match that ignited the home.

Forensic biologist Joy Reho also testified today about the rape-kit exam she performed on Jennifer Hawke-Petit. The vaginal swab tested positive for semen.

On Michaela Petit, said Reho, an anal swab showed evidence of semen. In his audio taped statement, Komisarjevsky admitted to sexually molesting the young girl, ejaculating on her body and taking naked pictures of her but his lawyers have adamantly denied that Komisarjevsky raped her.

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