Petit Home Invasion Jury Told Convicted Killer Was 'Doomed From Birth'

PHOTO: Joshua Komisarjevsky, on trial for murdering Dr. William Petits wife and two daughters, is shown in this July 23, 2007 photo.PlayConnecticut State Police
WATCH Petit Home Invasion: Second Man Guilty

A man convicted of killing a mother and her two daughters was described in court today as "doomed from birth" who was adopted by an austere family, was sexually molested as a boy and suffered a head injury in a car crash.

Joshua Komisarjevsky's difficult childhood was detailed in an attempt to convince a Connecticut jury to spare him from the death penalty.

Prosecutors arguing to have Komisarjevsky, 31, put to death showed the jury an 18 page history of Komisarjevsky's criminal record.

Earlier this month, Komisarjevsky was convicted of 17 counts including the murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, Hayley Petit, 17, and Michaela Petit, 11, during a brutal invasion of the family's Cheshire, Conn., home in 2007.

The verdict included six aggravating factors including that Komisarjevsky and his accomplice Steven Hayes committed the murders in "an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner." The mother was raped and strangled. The girls were tied to their beds and the house and their beds were splashed with gasoline before the house was set afire.

Hayes has already been sentenced to death and is on Connecticut's death row.

Adopted as a baby, Komisarjevsky was raised by Ben and Jude Komisarjevsky. Komisarjevsky's grandparents were wealthy and cultured. His grandmother was a dancer and his grandfather was a theater impresario. His Russian uncle was head of large and successful public relations firm.

But Komisarjevsky's adoptive father was not financially well-off and held down a series of odd jobs to support the family. The adoptive parents were evangelical Christians who were known to attend church as often as four times a week. The couple also took in a series of foster children, one of whom, a 15-year-old boy, allegedly sexually abused Komisarjevsky when he was just 5 and burned him with cigarettes, according to his lawyer Jeremiah Donovan.

From a young age, Komisarjevsky lived in "a state of fear in a house full of secrets," said Donovan. He often sought refuge in the woods behind his house because "he felt safer there," Donovan told the jury.

His adoptive parents did not believe in psychiatrists, preferring to seek help through prayer and their church, and that left Joshua Komisarjevsky's mental issues and emotional scars untreated, the lawyer said. In addition the young Komisarjevsky was involved in a serious car crash in which he sustained a head injury "that left his personality changed," said Donovan.

Donovan described Ben Komisarjevsky as controlling, unaffectionate and domineering. He said Jude Komisarjevsky deferred to her husband in all matters.

Komisarjevsky was taught that sex was evil and he was not allowed to listen to popular music growing up. He eventually turned to drugs and crime.

His first contact with law enforcement came at the age of 15 when he burned down a gas station in Cheshire, Conn. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital, but his parents moved him to a church-run retreat. At one point, Komisarjevsky joined the Army National Guard, but have to leave because of his criminal activity.

Prosecutors called Joseph Dzekian, a clerk in the criminal records division in the Connecticut court system, who testified to Komisarjevsky's prior record which was 18 pages long. Document after document was displayed on an overhead screen showing Komisarjevsky's troubles with the law including multiple burglary and larceny charges. Komisarjevsky pled guilty to virtually all of the offenses and was sentenced to between three and five years for each offense.

Prosecutors argue that Komisarjevsky's prior record in addition to the aggravating factors in these crimes should lead to a death sentence.

It was while he was in a halfway house after being released for some of these crimes that Komisarjevsky met up Hayes. A short time later the two planned the home invasion of the Petit home.

The penalty phase of Komisarjevsky's trial could be complicated by letters written by Hayes from death row in which he bragged that he had killed 17 people and claimed he took their shoes as trophies.

Komisarjevsky's lawyers claimed the letters were grounds for a mistrial, but may seek to introduce them in the penalty phase to bolster their argument that it was Hayes who was responsible for the murders.