Defense attorneys trying to spare convicted murderer Steven Hayes the death penalty for his role in the murders of a Connecticut mother and her two daughters plan to employ character witnesses and his history of drug abuse as part of their strategy.
"At this point, you must have an open mind as a question of punishment," public defender Patrick Culligan told the jury today, the first day of the sentencing trial, which is expected to last about two weeks.
"You will learn that he has a long criminal history of being a burglar and a thief and a person who has for a long period of time in his life [had] a serious drug abuse addiction," he continued. "You will also learn he could be a good worker ... he could be a likable person."
But whether or not being a sometimes "likable person" is enough to spare Hayes life is debatable for the jury who sat through weeks of gruesome evidence before finding Hayes, 47, guilty on 16 of 17 felony counts for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11.
Hawke-Petit and Michaela were also raped before being killed.
The defense's first witness, former investigator D'Arcy Lovetere, said she got to know Hayes during her time with the public defender's office in his hometown and described him as a "gentleman" and "motivated to work," who was always remorseful for his crimes.
"He wasn't the best criminal in the world for sure," Lovetere testified. "His addiction overtook him , but he just wasn't all that good as a criminal, I guess. He was a klutz."
"He was definitely a follower," she said.
And when she found out that Hayes, who once had a crush on her then-teenage daughter, Lovetere testified, "It knocked the wind out of me."
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I just was shocked."
The defense also called witness Christiane Gehami , who owns the West Hartford restaurant Arugula where Hayes worked as a pantry chef in 2006, while he was living in a halfway house.
Hayes would often get rides homes from Gehami who said she found Hayes to be "funny" and added that he "got along" with the other employees.
"Nobody lasts in there if you don't get along," added Gehami.
Gehami told the court about a time when Hayes broke up an argument between her co-chef and another man.
"Basically what Steve was doing was protecting me from this guy," she said.
When she first heard about the Petit murders and Hayes' involvement, Gehami said her first reaction was "No way, this is a mistake."
Gehami also provided of preview of the pending trial of Hayes' co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky. She said that Komisarjevsky sometimes came to the restaurant to "help with projects" and that she recalls thinking she was "looking at the devil" and denied his offer to work for her.
Komisarjevsky had "dead eyes," added Gehami.
The prosecution rested its case before noon, calling just one witness --- criminal court clerk John Dziekan -- to present Hayes prior convictions.
"Ninety-nine percent of the evidence we rely on has already been put before you," State's Attorney Michael Dearington said today during his opening statement.
Evidence in the sentencing phase, the bulk of it from the defense, is scheduled to be heard early this week and into next week, with closing statements expected by Oct. 29.
Culligan told the jury today that he had as many as eight witnesses who knew Hayes before the 2007 home invasion for "insight as to who Steven Hayes was before he committed the crimes."