It has been called the most horrific crime in Connecticut's history. A 2007 home invasion escalated into a triple homicide leaving a mother and her two daughters dead and a father badly beaten and emotionally scarred.
Four years later, the final chapter in this tragic story is about to unfold in a New Haven courtroom as the death penalty trial of 31-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky, one of two men charged for the crimes that night, gets underway with opening statements today.
Komisarjevsky faces 17 charges ranging from murder to abduction and assault.
The grisly details of the story are widely known from court documents and testimony in the trial of Komisarjevsky's alleged accomplice Steven Hayes.
On July 23, 2007, for seven hours, Dr. William Petit, his wife Jennifer Hawke-Petit and their daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were held hostage. The daughters were tied to their beds and one of them was allegedly sexually assaulted by Komisarjevski.
Hawke-Petit was driven to a bank at gun point, told to withdraw money and taken back to her house, where she was raped and then strangled. The house was doused with gasoline and set on fire. Hayley, Michaela and their mother died, the girls tied to their gasoline splashed beds.
Dr. Petit managed to escape and crawl to a neighbor's house, beaten and bloodied, to call for help.
Komisarjevsky and Hayes were arrested a block away from the Petit family home. Both men had lengthy criminal records.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky tried to plead guilty to the crimes in exchange for a life sentence, but prosecutors refused.
Hayes stood trial for his role in the crimes last year. In court, Hayes seemed subdued, even sad. It took the jury just hours to find him guilty. When he was allowed to address the court, Hayes said "death would be a welcome relief." He was sentenced to be executed and is now on death row.
Hayes' trial mesmerized Connecticut and much of the country with reporters lining up each day to into the courtroom, and sending out minute-by-minute accounts of the testimony over Twitter. When it was over, Dr. Petit even sat down for an interview with Oprah, an indication of just how much the public at large was following this case.
Despite the high stakes nature of the death penalty trial, Hayes' attorney Thomas Ullmann adopted a courtly rather than a confrontational manner in court. And he always maintained a respectful demeanor towards Dr. Petit and his relatives.
But the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky promises to be different.
Komisarjevsky's three court-appointed attorneys, Walter Bansley III, Jeremiah Donovan and Todd Bussert have adopted a combative, even confrontational style with Dr. Petit and his family.
Second Petit Trial Gets Underway
Jeremiah Donovan has dubbed them the "Petit posse" and tried to get Judge Jon Blue to ban Petit from the courtroom and other family members from wearing memorial pins. Normally, witnessed are not allowed to sit in court for testimony, but because Petit is both a witness and a victim, the judge has allowed him to remain. Blue also ruled that family members could continue wearing their pins.
The attorneys filed a motion to have the jury sequestered during the trial because of all the publicity surrounding the case. That too was denied.
The trio of defense attorneys who have called themselves the "most hated men in America" have also taken Petit to task for his outspoken support of the death penalty. They have accused him of "mounting a public relations campaign" in support of the death penalty.
Donovan took issue with the wording of an "in memoriam" notice written by Petit in which he described his family's killers as "pure evil." In a court motion, the defense attorneys slammed the characterization as inaccurate and inappropriate and instead referred to their client as "a damaged human being" who deserved a chance to respond to the allegations.
Well-known Connecticut trial attorney Norman Pattis said the defense team has little choice but to be aggressive, even against such a sympathetic figure as Petit.
"I think defense counsel has resorted to a total war strategy, but what choice do they have? There has been a gag order on the counsel, but not on the complaining witness in the case (Petit) who has done everything but bang a blood red drum demanding death in this case," said Pattis. "Jerry Donovan has no choice but to fight hard for this man's life."
Pattis said that he does not believe Komisarjevsky will be able to get a fair trial in Connecticut because "the environment is polluted with hostility."
The Petit's house at 300 Sorghum Mill Drive is in a leafy upper middle class suburb in Cheshire, Conn., a town of about 30,000 people nestled in the middle of the state.
Hayley was about to start at Dartmouth College as a freshman and Michaela attended a private school. Dr. Petit had a thriving medical practice and Jennifer Hawke-Petit worked as a nurse.
"Let's face it, these are white, middle class victims.These defendants are accused and most likely did kill the American Dream and that's not going to be easily forgiven," said Pattis. "And it's clear Dr. Petit wants these men dead."
At the time of the murders, some members of the Connecticut legislature were prepared to consider abolishing the death penalty. According to Pattis, Petit lobbied them not do so.
"These men offered to plead guilty and they should have been allowed to do so," said Pattis who believes the state wanted a show trial to satisfy the public's need to punish someone publicly for the crimes.
"It is clear to me that there is blood lust in the air," said Pattis.