Joshua Komisarjevsky's Death Sentence Gives Massacre Survivor Peace

PHOTO: Joshua Komisarjevsky is shown in this booking photo.
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Dr. William Petit said today he feels a sense of peace now that a jury has condemned to death Joshua Komisarjevsky, the man he believes led the attack on his home that killed his wife and two daughters.

"There is never complete closure when you lose your wife and family…but the first part is over and we think justice has been served," said Petit after the jury delivered its verdict in a Connecticut courtroom.

Komisarjevsky, 31, was handed a death sentence for each of the six capital offenses of which he was convicted.

He was convicted in October in the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and their two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. The mother and younger girl were sexually assaulted. The mother was strangled while girls, tied to their beds, died when the house was set ablaze during the 2007 home invasion.

Petit's sister Johanna Petit Chapman, who has been a constant presence by the side of Dr. Petit during the grisly trial, thanked the jury for their service.

"I think they delivered the right verdict. It's not blood lust or revenge as some have said... From the very beginning we thought Mr. Komisarjveksy was the leader," Chapman said.

Komisarjevsky's accomplice, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death last year. He is currently on Connecticut's death row.

It took the Komisarjevsky jury just over four days to come to their unanimous decision to execute him.

Komisarjevsky's defense team condemned the verdict.

"Given the outrage over this horrendous crime, we couldn't get a fair trial," Walter Bansley III said and indicated that would be part of their appeal.

He said condemning a person to die is "so barbaric it puts us the (categories) of countries like Yemen, Iraq, Iran and Texas."

Defense lawyer Jeremiah Donovan said the "appropriate sentence in this case is to send Joshua to state prison for the rest of his life."

Komisarjevsky's uncle Chris Komisarjevsky praised the Petit and Hawke families for their "dignity in the face of their sorrow and we are eternally grateful for the kindness those families have shown us."

Petit for the first time in the four year ordeal seemed to be looking to the future.

"We want to go forward with the Petit Family Foundation and create good out of evil," he said.

"I will relax some and try to enjoy the holidays as best we can," Petit said.

He said he could even see a time when he might return to the practice of medicine, a practice that had been put on hold after the horrific events of July 23, 2007.

Petit, the lone survivor of the 2007 attack, was sitting in the courtroom's front row where he has been throughout the grisly trial. He displayed no emotion other than to put his arm around his sister as the killer of his wife and two daughters repeatedly heard the sentence of death for each of their murders.

For six weeks, in the penalty phase of his trial, Komisarjevsky's defense lawyers argued that Komisarjevsky was "doomed from birth" and that his difficult childhood was marred by sexual abuse, addiction and a series of head injuries that created a "perfect storm" of psychological issues that caused Komisarjevsky to turn to a life of crime.

According to Donovan, Komisarjevsky was adopted and raised in a strict religious household with parents who were unwilling to seek professional psychiatric help for their increasingly troubled son.

A parade of witnesses including Komisarjevsky's sister and his parents Jude and Benedict Komisarjevsky took the stand in his defense. Jude Komisarjevsky told the jury that her son seemed to change "overnight" when he was 14 and became angry and unreachable. "He wasn't who he used to be," said Jude Komisarjevsky as she broke down on the stand. Komisarjevsky's sister testified that he molested her as a young girl.

In an unusual and controversial move, Komisarjevsky's 9-year-old daughter was also called by the defense to testify and after some legal maneuvering eventually ended up answering a series of questions while being videotaped. The tape was later shown to the jury. It is unclear if that videotape played a role in the jury's decision.

The 12-member jury began their deliberations on Monday afternoon with a lengthy charge from Judge Jon C. Blue, who has presided over both the Komisarjevsky and Hayes trials. Blue told the jury, "You must now decide whether he lives or dies. This simple statement is enough to suggest the solemnity of the occasion which brings us together."

Prosecutors argued that there were aggravating factors in the Komisarjevsky case that should require a sentence of death. "Each murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner" and he "inflicted extreme physical or psychological pain, suffering, or torture" on his victims, prosecutors argued.

The emotional trial began on Sept. 19. Komisarjevsky's defense attorneys argued that their client was a man who was "confused" and easily led but who never meant to kill anyone. Komisarjevsky's attorneys blamed Hayes for the killings and said Hayes was the criminal mastermind July 23, 2007 when the two men broke into the Petit family home.

Joshua Komisarjevsky Joins 10 Others on Connecticut's Death Row

At the beginning of the trial, Bansley warned the jury that they would likely hear testimony that would "break your hearts." And the testimony was heartbreaking.

In gruesome detail, the jury heard how Komisarjevsky and Hayes beat Dr. Petit about the head with a baseball bat and then tied him up bloodied and bruised. The jury learned how the two daughters Hayley and Michaela were tied to their beds for hours and terrorized. Komisarjevsky admitted to sexually molesting Michaela and taking half-naked pictures of the child as she was tied up.

There was also testimony about how Hayes raped and strangled the girls' mother. And then how gasoline was poured in the Petit family home, including on the girl's beds as they lay tied up before setting the house on fire. A medical examiner testified that because of the extent of the fire damage, dental records had to be used to identify Hawke-Petit's body. Experts described how the young girls likely survived for agonizing minutes only to succumb to the poison of smoke inhalation.

Only the father survived. Brutally beaten and left bound in the basement he managed to escape to a neighbor's house. As he did in Hayes' trial, Petit sat in the first row every day and endured the often difficult testimony.

As the horrific events of that night spiraled out of control, Bansley said Komisarjevsky was helpless to stop them because his decision-making skills had been impaired by his years of abuse and neglect.

Ironically, during Hayes' trial last year, defense attorney Thomas Ullmann claimed that Komisarjevsky was the true mastermind behind the home invasion.

Komisarjevsky will now head to the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut. This level five maximum security institution houses Connecticut's death row.

Only one individual has been executed in Connecticut since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. That execution occurred in 2005 and was of serial killer Michael Ross, also known as the Roadside Strangler.

Komisarjevsky will now join 10 other inmates on death row including his accomplice Steven Hayes.

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