Petit Home Invasion Trial: Will Joshua Komisarjevsky Take the Stand?

PHOTO: Joshua Komisarjevsky is seen in this March 14, 2011 file photo.PlayConnecticut Department of Correction
WATCH Petit Endures Murder Trial Confession

Lawyers for Joshua Komisarjevsky are poised to begin the defense of their client in the triple murder case after the prosecution has presented overwhelming and often sickening evidence against him.

To avoid having Komisarjevsky sentenced the death, the defense has taken unusual steps from a combative approach to the victims' family to repeatedly seeking a mistrial. Several defense experts raise the possibility that Komisarjevsky's defense team could take the even more daring tactic of putting him on the stand.

Komisarjevsky, 31, is on trial for having broken into the home of Dr. William Petit on July 23, 2007 along with accomplice Steven Hayes.

During the home invasion, they beat Dr. Petit about the head with a baseball bat and then tied him up. They raped and strangled Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48. Their two daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were tied to their beds for hours and terrorized. Komisarjevsky admitted to sexually molesting Michaela Petit.

The house and the girls' bodies were doused with gasoline and the home was set on fire. Dental records had to be used to identify Hawke-Petit's body. And experts have testified that the death of the young girls was sure to be agonizing. Pictures of the attractive, smiling family torn apart by this vicious crime have saturated Connecticut media for years.

Daring Defense Strategy in Petit Home Invasion Trial

The job of Komisarjevsky's legal team -- Jeremiah Donovan, Walter Bansley III and Todd Bussert -- won't be easy. Their client gave a 90 minute long audio taped statement to police. He wrote a diary in jail which became part of a book in which he appeared to taunt Dr. Petit, the sole survivor of that night. And Hayes was convicted last year for his role in the crimes and given the death penalty. He is currently serving his sentence on Connecticut's death row.

Their client is so reviled that the legal trio have referred to themselves as the most hated men in Connecticut.

Attorneys in the case are under a gag order so talked to several prominent Connecticut defense attorneys on what possible strategy the Komisarjevsky defense team might use.

"They are going to try to hang the jury up on whether or not Komisarjevsky was merely an accessory to the murder of a child or if he had a hand in committing the murders himself. If he's only an accessory, the defense will say he ought not to be killed," said Norman Pattis, one of the highest profile criminal defense attorneys in Connecticut.

They will blame Hayes for the violence, Pattis said. It was Hayes who bought the gas, Hayes who poured the gas in the family home and Hayes who lit the house on fire, they will argue.

Donovan is known as bold strategist in the courtroom, said Pattis, and it is possible that he will try something risky on the stand. "He has nothing to lose," said Pattis. And that could include putting his client on the stand.

"With most lawyers I would say the chances are 1 in 100 that they would put this client on the stand. With this lawyer I would say it's 1 in 4," said Pattis.

Defense's Turn in Petit Home Invasion Trial

Attorney John Walkley, a Connecticut defense attorney who has also argued capital cases, said that if Komisarjevsky testifies it would likely be in the penalty phase of the trial, assuming Komisarjevsky is found guilty. Until then, the defense needs to "try to separate their client from some of the more heinous offenses that night," Walkley said.

Komisarjevsky's lawyers have tried to separate him from the fire, trying to raise doubts while cross-examining some state's witnesses about the finding of a flammable, gas-like substance on Komisarjevsky's pants. The defense tried to argue that the liquid could have been there as part of Komisarjevsky's job as a roofer.

Walkley also said the defense has another challenge. "It's okay if the jury hates your client, but you don't want them to hate you. You need them on your side if there is to be a penalty phase."

Some courtroom observers think the defense team is walking a fine line in that regard because they have adopted a combative tone in court. The defense teams has moved for a mistrial three times.

Donovan routinely refers to the lone survivor, Dr. Petit, and his family as the "Petit posse." Donovan and his team have also petitioned the court to get family members to remove their memorial buttons while they are in court. And they have accused Dr. Petit of "mounting a public relations campaign" in support of the death penalty.

The defense is expected to begin its case on Wednesday. Closing arguments could come as early as Friday.