Steven Hayes smiled as he was sentenced to death by a Connecticut jury today for his role in the deadly 2007 home invasion that killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters.
Lawyers for Hayes said that their client was "happy with the verdict" and had "got what he wanted."
"The fact of the matter is that a life sentence without the possibility of release is the most brutal punishment," said Thomas Ullmann. "For [Hayes], this is an easy way out."
The jury unanimously found the death penalty the appropriate punishment for Hayes' role in the triple murders. He was convicted of the murders last month, and a separate jury was empaneled to decided whether he should be condemned to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.
The verdict came halfway through day four of deliberation for the jury that spent the whole weekend holed up in a New Haven courtroom discussing the fate of Hayes, 47.
As the verdict was read, members of the Petit family, including Dr. William Petit, held their heads in their hands. While no outburst of emotion was heard, a court marshal offered a box of tissues to the Petit family.
Dr. Petit, the husband and father of the victims, was badly beaten with a bat, but was the only person to survive the attack on his Cheshire, Conn., home.
In an emotional press conference outside the courthouse, Dr. Petit told reporters that he was pleased justice was served.
"We all know that God will be the final arbiter and I think the defendant faces far more serious punishments from the Lord than he can ever face from mankind," he said.
"There were many, many sleepless nights and a lot of worry and agitation and a lot of tears," he said of the trial, which he attended everyday along with other members of his family and his wife's family.
Asked what he was thinking when the death penalty verdict was read, Dr. Petit answered, "I was crying for loss."
"Michaela was an 11-year-old little girl tortured and killed in her own bedroom, surrounded by stuffed animals," said Dr. Petit, breaking down as he spoke. "Hayley had a great future. She was a strong and courageous person, and Jennifer helped so many kids."
Dr. William Petit Reacts to Steven Hayes' Death Sentence
Dr. Petit said there were days he struggled to get out of bed or get his picture taken on the courthouse steps for the "one hundred thousandth time."
"I didn't want to be here and listen to things that were being said," he said. "Thousands of times I wanted to jump up and scream out."
Of the recent days he spent awaiting the jury's ruling on Hayes' fate, Dr. Petit said he felt "so terrible" that he didn't know if he "wanted to cry or just die."
Dr. Petit also said that he was once offended when reporters asked him if a death penalty would give him closure on his family's brutal murder, saying today that he believes whoever "came up with the concept of closure is an imbecile."
"There is never closure, there is a hole. A hole with jagged edges and over time the edges may smooth out a little bit, but the hole in your heart and the hole in your soul is still there," he said.
Dr. Petit said that he believes the case against Hayes' accused accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky, will be a "different case" but is sure the evidence is "just as strong."
"I think it will be just as ugly and just as painful, unfortunately," he said.
As the verdict was read, Hayes, wearing a striped blue and burgundy shirt, sat flanked by two lawyers as he stared directly at the jurors.
Jurors stood while the judge read the verdict and one female juror dabbed away tears and she looked directly at the Petit family. Jurors were spotted comforting one another as the verdict was read.
The judge polled the 12 jurors to be sure that each agreed on the sentencing, which is expected to be imposed by Judge Jon Blue on Dec. 2.
Blue told jurors that while they were free to speak about their experience they should try to consider "deliberations private."
Dismissing the jury, Blue told the group, "You have done something many people thought impossible."
"I now dismiss you with my profound thanks," the judge said.
Gov. Jodi Rell Agrees With Death Sentence for Steven Hayes
Hayes is convicted of raping and choking Hawke-Petit to death and accused accomplice Komisarjevsky is charged with sexually assaulting 11-year-old Michaela Petit. Michaela and her older sister Hayley, 17, died after they were tied to their beds, doused with gasoline and the house was set on fire.
Together, prosecutors say, they ambushed the Petit family on a summer night after Komisarjevsky followed Hawke-Petit and Michaela home from a grocery store and targeted the family as wealthy.
The two intended to rob the family, but after finding little cash in the house they held the family captive for hours before driving Hawke-Petit to the bank to withdraw $15,000. Hawke-Petit was seen on the bank's surveillance system pleading with the teller to help her family.
Prosecutors alleged that Komisarjevsky raped Michaela, later forcing her to take a shower before tying her to her bed. During Hayes' trial, prosecutors argued that he raped Hawke-Petit before strangling her. As the two girls lay tied to their beds with Hawke-Petit dead on the lower floor of the house, Hayes and Komisarjevsky set fire to the house, prosecutors said, pouring gasoline on and around the girls' bed before fleeing.
Komisarjevsky, 30, is scheduled to stand trial early next year.
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell released a statement on Hayes' verdict.
"The crimes that were committed on that brutal July night were so far out of the range of normal understanding that now, more than three years later, we still find it difficult to accept that they happened in one of our communities," said Rell.
"I have long believed that there are certain crimes so heinous, so depraved, that society is best served by imposing the ultimate sanction on the criminal. Steven Hayes stands convicted of such crimes – and today the jury has recommended that he should be subjected to the death penalty. I agree," said Rell.
Rell also reached out to the Petit family and the jurors, who she said have "seen and heard terrible things and faced extremely difficult choices."
"They have served with honor and deserve our appreciation," said Rell.
Hayes will join nine other men who currently await execution on Connecticut's death row, which is housed in the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Conn.
The last inmate to be executed in Connecticut was serial killer Michael Ross in 2005.
The jury had struggled during deliberations to agree on a sentence for Hayes. On the first day of deliberations the jurors sent a note to the judge asking, "What does it mean to unanimously find the existence of a statutory mitigating factor?"
After meeting with the judge and resuming deliberations, a second note sought additional clarification on mitigating factors, specifically on mental capacity and "conforming to law."
Mitigating circumstances would allow the jurors to sentence Hayes to life in prison rather than to be executed.
Hayes' lawyers had argued that he should be spared execution because the ringleader was Komisarjevsky who escalated the violence instead of carrying out a house robbery as originally planned. The lawyers also argued that Hayes had expressed remorse for the crime and wanted to be executed.
Steven Hayes Condemned to Death Row
In order for Hayes to be sentenced to death, the jury had to have found Hayes guilty of several aggravating factors beyond just committing the crime, according to the state.
Those aggravating factors included committing the murders during the commission of third-degree burglary as well as committing the offenses in a "heinous manner, extreme physical or psychological pain above and beyond that which was necessary" and with "grave risk."
John Webster, the managing director of the National Prison and Sentencing Consultants Inc., said that Hayes' life on death row will be lonely, with minimal contact with the outside world.
"Death row on Somers is very isolated, there is very little human contact," said Webster.