Death for Petit Family Murderer Steven Hayes? Penalty Phase Looms

Steven Hayes was found guilty of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two girls.

ByABC News
October 4, 2010, 11:16 AM

NEW HAVEN, Conn., Oct. 6, 2010 — -- The ex-con found guilty in the deaths of a Connecticut mother and her two daughters is now looking toward the penalty phase, which prosecutors hope will end in a death sentence.

Steven Hayes was found guilty Tuesday on 16 of the 17 counts he faced for his role in the brutal 2007 home invasion that left Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, dead. He was convicted of six capital crimes, including murder and kidnapping, which make him eligible for the death penalty.

Hayes' conviction even took center stage Tuesday early on during a gubernatorial debate with the two candidates at odds over whether the death penalty should be abolished.

"If there was ever an instance where capital punishment ... should apply, it's this case,'' said Republican Tom Foley, the Hartford Courant reported. "I support the death penalty ... I will not change the law.''

Democrat Dan Malloy shot back that he wouldn't seek to overturn existing convictions and referenced Hayes and his co-defendant Joshus Komisarjevsky.

"If these two gentlemen are sentenced to death, that sentence will be carried out," Malloy said. " Period.''

A jury will begin hearing arguments in the penalty phase Oct. 18. Connecticut has only executed one person -- serial killer Michael Ross in 2005 -- in the last 40 years.

If sentenced to die, Hayes will join 10 others on Connecticut's death row.

As the verdict was read Tuesday, Dr. William Petit, the only survivor of the slaughter, clutched his sister but remained stoic. Relatives of his slain wife wept while Hayes hung his head.

Hayes, 47, was quickly handcuffed and led out of the courtroom by officers.

As he left the courthouse, Petit thanked the jury for their "appropriate verdict" and said he and his family had kept their "faith in God that justice would be served."

"There is some relief, but my family is still gone. [The verdict] doesn't bring them back, it doesn't bring back the home that we had, but certainly a guilty verdict is a much better sense of relief than a verdict of not guilty," said Petit.

Petit made clear he would also attend the trial for Hayes' accomplice, although he said he gets a "little nausea" each time he heads to court to hear the grisly details of his family's murders.

"If your family was destroyed by evil, you would be there for your family. It's the only thing you can do for your family," said Petit.

"Do I look forward to this every day? No," said Petit. "But I do it for my family, and I think all of you would do the same thing for your families."

The Rev. Richard Hawke, the father of Petit-Hawke, told reporters gathered by the Connecticut courtroom, ""We are pleased with the verdict. … We feel justice is being served."

Hayes was not convicted of first degree arson, a charge that the jury had questioned the judge about during deliberations. Asked by the jury whether Hayes' pouring gasoline in the Petit's home was the same thing as lighting a match, the judge had answered "no."

Petit said he couldn't comment on the not guilty charge and whether he was disappointed by it because he wasn't sure "he understood it."