Conn. Home Invasion: Petit Murders Spark Debate on Cost of Death Penalty Versus Justice

Video: Steven Hayes found guilty of murder.

The gruesome details in the home invasion murders of a Connecticut mother and her two daughters have led armchair jurors to call for the execution of convicted killer Steven Hayes.

That kind of emotional reaction is exactly what Hayes' defense attorneys are hoping to avoid as they try to convince the court ahead of next week's penalty trial that it would be cheaper for the state to let their client languish in prison for life than it would be to put him to death.

"The cost of imposing and carrying out a death sentence far exceeds the cost of a sentence of life without the possibility of release," the defense's court filing states, adding that the defense intended to call an expert witness to back up their claims.

Hayes, 47, was convicted last week on 16 felony counts for his role in the grisly July 2007 home invasion that ended with the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. The mother and one of the daughters were also raped.

The state argued in a separate motion that the cost of execution was "irrelevant."

His attorneys are arguing their case today in a pre-trial hearing. According to the Hartford Courant, Hayes attorney's cited polls showing that support for the death penalty decreases when people learn of the cost disparity between the two sentences.

But an overwhelming majority of Connecticut residents favor the death penalty for the man convicted in the Petit murders, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

The university reported that 76 percent of respondents were in favor of a death penalty for this specific crime and 18 were against, compared to a 65 to 23 percent split in favor of the death penalty in general.

Hayes' trial riveted the nation and provided justice for the sole Petit survivor, Dr. William Petit.

The husband, who was savagely beaten and tied to a pole in the basement before he managed to escape to a neighbor's house shortly before his home was burned down with his family inside, spoke passionately on behalf of his family both inside and outside of the courtroom.

But he has announced he will not give a victim impact statement during the penalty phase, which begins Monday.

In a statement, Petit cited what he considers to be a lack of clarity in Connecticut law regarding the reading of victim impact statements, saying it is not well-defined whether such a statement should be read by the victim himself or by the prosecutor and whether or not such a statement should be presented prior to or after the sentencing.

Petit said he feared that "this lack of clarity" could be used by an appellate court to rule that a victim impact statement improperly influenced sentencing.

"I do not presently intend to seek to offer a victim impact statement in this case precisely because of my concerns that it could be used (wrongly) as a basis for appeal and possibly even a new sentencing trial," Petit said.

Petit went on to call on the Connecticut General Assembly to amend its law to "guarantee in unambiguous terms" the right victims to give an impact statement before sentencing.

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