Attorneys For Petit Murderer Steven Hayes Turn to Prison Safety During Sentencing Trial

Steven Hayes is facing the death penalty for killing a mother and her daughters.

NEW HAVEN, Conn., Oct. 25, 2010— -- Attorneys working to spare the life of convicted murderer Steven Hayes turned the heat on the Connecticut prison system today, grilling former corrections officials on inmate safety.

Retired corrections commissioner Theresa Lantz, first on the stand this morning for the defense, invoked notorious murderer Jeffrey Dahmer and de-frocked Boston pedophile priest John Geoghan as high-profile inmates who were brutally murdered while serving their sentences.

"It's a horrific crime that was committed," Lantz said when asked if she had any concerns for Hayes' safety in the wake of the July 2007 home invasion that left Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, dead. "When you have offenders with that type of a history ... you're very concerned about their safety."

Today kicked off the second week of testimony in the sentencing phase of Hayes' trial. The prosecution, which is pushing for the death penalty, rested its case the first morning after calling a clerk to read a list of Hayes' criminal convictions.

Closing arguments are expected to be held on Friday.

The defense team has held court the rest of the time, calling an array of witnesses that collectively have painted Hayes, 47, as a drug addicted burglar who played follower to co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky's alleged ring leader.

Last week, Yale University Professor Dr. Paul Amble, who conducted a four-hour evaluation of Hayes earlier this year, testified that the defendant has made multiple attempts to commit suicide while incarcerated, as recently as August of this year.

Amble told the court that Hayes tried to kill himself "several times" prior to the Petit murders, and admitted to wanting to die after the Petit triple murder as well.

"[Hayes] described his persistent desire to die were because of his feelings of guilt, remorse and his condition of confinement," said Amble.

Since entering the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, Hayes has attempted to overdose on a variety of pills. In October 2007, prison authorities found 20 pills that Hayes had hoarded in his cell and in January 2009 puncture wounds on his left forearm were spotted.

In January, Hayes "ingested a toxic level of thorazine," an anti-psychotic drug that Amble testified Hayes was not prescribed.

In August, just a month before his trial was slated to begin, Hayes tried to overdose on Ibuprofen, according to Amble.

Hayes told Amble that he often fantasized about killing himself, and even thought about sticking his head in the toilet in his cell and doing a back flip, presumably to break his neck.

Entering prison at 200 lbs, Hayes has since lost 70 lbs, in part because of his paranoia that the prison staff was "contaminating his food."

Joshua Komisarjevsky's Musings on the Petit Murders Heard in Hayes' Sentencing

Also last week, the jury heard wrenching journal entries by Joshua Komisarjevsky, who is scheduled to stand trial next year.

The dramatic readings included details of the last minutes of the lives of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11.

"Hayley is a fighter. She continually tried time and time again to free herself," he wrote. "Michaela was calm. Mrs. Petit's courage was, is, to be respected. She could have stayed inside the bank where she was safe."

Click here to read excerpts from Joshua Komisarjevsky's journal

He also railed against the sole survivor of the Cheshire, Conn., attack, Dr. William Petit, who, although badly beaten, was able to free himself from his basement and make his way to a neighbor's house for help.

"Mr. Petit is a coward, he ran away when he felt his own life was threatened," Komisarjevsky wrote. "Time and time again I gave him the chance to save his family."

Dr. William Petit, who has attended every day of the court hearings, sat stoically through the testimony.

"I really don't want to dignify the ravings of a sociopath," he said outside the court that day.

Criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Rikki Klieman said Komisarjevsky's cruel words toward the Petit patriarch will likely only strengthen the jury's sympathy for William Petit, the man they saw sitting in court every day of Hayes' trial as the murders and the rape of his wife and youngest daughter were recounted in chilling detail.

"I think it may backfire on the defense," she said.

"It all spills over on Steven Hayes. They are both depraved," said Klieman, who is not involved in the trial but has been following the case. "I think it's a high-risk game, and the roll of the dice may not go their way."

"This," she said of the 2007 crimes against the Petit family," is the worst of the worst."

The judge allowed Hayes' defense attorneys to present 43 pages of Komisarjevsky's letters and diary to help the jury determine the culpability of each man and their "relative evil."

"I'm not an angel," Komisarjevsky wrote. "I've never claimed to be. The scars on my soul have forever defined me as different than others."

Komisarjevsky said that he "resented" the implication that he raped Michaela and wrote that he had "spared her that degree of demoralization." Admitting that he did in fact sexually assault her, Komisarjevsky wrote, "In a vulgar display of power, I ejaculated onto her."

"As for why? It was the accumulation of years of pent up aggression," he wrote.

Komisarjevsky admits in the journal to taking photos of Michaela after the assault, images he wrote that he planned to use to blackmail her parents.

"What I was not prepared for was my demons getting the better of me," he wrote.