Death Penalty in Connecticut Home Invasion Case Brought Family 'Huge Sense of Relief'

Jurors told "GMA" they kept a picture of murder victims in deliberation room.

Nov. 9, 2010— -- Though the jurors in the Connecticut home invasion trial spent four days deliberating before sentencing convicted murderer Steven Hayes to death, a meeting afterward with the sole survivor was one of the hardest moments.

"That was probably the toughest moment for me when it came to keeping the waterworks from starting," juror Herbert Gram said of their meeting Monday with the Petit family in a courthouse basement room.

And they all were surprised to hear what the Petits had to say.

"We didn't understand why they were thanking us" after all they'd been through, juror Maico Cardona said. "We followed the letter of the law."

But for the family of murder victims Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 47, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, the verdict brought a rush of emotions -- gratitude, sadness and something even more overwhelming.

"I guess a huge sense of relief that it was over," Hawke-Petit's sister, Cindy Hawke-Renn, told "Good Morning America" today of her reaction to the verdict. "I guess I was glad that they came to the decision that they did."

"I felt like if any crime ever called for the death penalty, this probably did," she said.

Her sentiment was one shared with at least one of the jurors who initially questioned the panel's qualifications to sentence another human being to death.

"I don't think anyone of us felt we were in a position to judge the taking of another person's life," Gram said.

But then they considered that laws of the United States gave them that power.

"If this wasn't the case to use that tool on, then we never really had a case," he said, calling the crimes "so over the top" that the death penalty was really the only imaginable punishment.

Outside the courtoom Monday, lawyers for Hayes said he was "happy with the verdict" and "got what he wanted."

The trial and sentencing phase was grueling for the jurors and the Petit family. Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of the 2007 home invasion that left his wife and children dead, sat stoically through most of the trial, leaving only when the testimony about the rape and murder of his youngest daughter became too much to bear.

Jurors were shown crime scene photos of the three women after their Cheshire, Conn., house had been torched in an effort to erase the evidence -- Hawke-Petit had been raped and strangled and Hayley had managed to free herself after being tied to her bed, only to die from smoke inhalation on her way to save her family.

Michaela, who had also been raped, was found still tied to her bed.

Hawke-Renn said she got through the tough moments of the trial by imagining how she believes her sister and nieces left their lives behind in the midst of so much horror.

"I imagine at the very end of my sister and her daughters' lives that my sister probably in the course of being strangled, I just imagine her kind of leaving her body and kind of floating up the steps to Hayley first," Hawke-Renn said.

She imagines her sister urging her eldest daughter to let go "and then her taking Hayley and going to Michaela's room and saying, 'Michaela let go of this,'" Hawke-Renn said.

And then, when the three were together, Hawke-Renn imagined her sister taking her children to God.

Jurors Relied on 'Group Dynamics' and "Deep Spiritual Element" in Decided Murderer's Fate

The jurors said they kept a picture of Hawke-Petit and the girls in the deliberation room "as a reminder."

"We were looking at the law, we had to make decisions with the law," juror Diane Keim said, "but the family was in front of us."

It was hard, they said, to try to leave their emotions behind and do what they were legally charged to do. Though they argued at times, going back to the judge more than once for clarification, they were never disrespectful, they said.

"There's almost no way to describe the group dynamics," said juror Joel Zemke, the jury foreman during the guilt or innocence phase. "It's not like anything I've ever experienced. The group has become like a family."

At times, he said, one of the jurors would become overwhelmed and break down in tears. The rest would rally and then get back to work.

"I think there's a really deep spiritual element within this group, that's really what got us through it," he said.

Many involved in the Hayes' trial and sentencing had nothing but effusive praise for Dr. William Petit, who never wavered in his determination to find justice for his family.

"Billy is one of the strongest men I've ever met in my life," Hawke-Renn said.

Petit, who had been severely beaten in the attack on his family, but managed to escape to a neighbor's house, said outside the courthouse Monday that as the verdict was read, "I was crying for loss."

"Michaela was an 11-year-old little girl tortured and killed in her own bedroom, surrounded by stuffed animals," he said, breaking down as he spoke. "Hayley had a great future. She was a strong and courageous person, and Jennifer helped so many kids."

And though the grueling Hayes' trial is now over, Petit will be back in the courtroom next year when Hayes' co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky, 30, is tried.

It was Komisarjevsky, prosecutors allege, that raped 11-year-old Michaela.

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.

The last inmate to be executed in Connecticut was serial killer Michael Ross in 2005.

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