Dr. William Petit Takes the Stand, Tells of His Family's Slaughter

Steven Hayes trial underway; jurors warned of 'indescribable' events

September 13, 2010, 4:59 PM

Sept. 14, 2010— -- In dramatic testimony, a prominent Connecticut doctor described how he was beaten in his sleep and woke up face-to-face with two men who sexually assaulted, tortured and killed his wife and two daughters in a brutal home invasion.

Dr. William Petit, who took the stand Tuesday at the trial of one of the men accused of murdering his family, was the sole survivor of the 2007 attack. He told the court for the first time how Steven Hayes, along with co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky, allegedly broke into his Cheshire home, raped his wife and one of his daughters and set the house on fire.

After describing a pleasant Sunday leading up to the murder, Petit then told of a night of horror, beginning with the severe beating he suffered as he slept.

He said that around 3 a.m., "I remember I awoke in a daze thinking or feeling ow, ow, ow. ... Something warm was running down the front of my face. ... I saw two people standing in front of the sofa. ... (a) person who was walking said if he moves put two bullets in him."

Petit said the men bound his wrists and ankles with rope and plastic ties, and covered his face, then took him down to the basement, where they tied him to a pole. He said he went in and out of consciousness.

Upstairs in the house were Petit's wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit and the couple's two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11.

"I heard moaning and thumps. I may have yelled out, 'Hey!' Then he said he heard someone upstairs say, 'You are alright, don't worry it's going to be all over in a couple minutes.' It was a different tone, it was much more sinister," he testified.

Petit said he did not know the fate of his wife and daughters,but said he heard his wife in the kitchen tell one of the attackersshe needed to change clothes and get a checkbook. She went to a local bank early that Monday morning and withdrew $15,000.

"I felt a major jolt of adrenaline and thought it's now or never. In my mind, at that moment, I thought they were going to shoot all of us," he said.

He then described his dramatic escape: how he managed to free his hands, and hop up the stairs, falling at least once, then finally making his way out the door.

"My heart felt like it was beating 200 beats per minute," he said, "like it was going to explode out of my chest."

Somehow, he crawled, then rolled to a neighbor's house. Doctorssaid later Petit had lost as much as seven pints of blood. He said his neighbor didn't even recognize him at first, because he was so bloody.

Then the neighbor called 911.

But it was too late for his wife and daughters.

The dramatic testimony followed the opening statements Monday of State's Attorney Michael Dearington and Public Defender Thomas Ullmann as Hayes' trial began in New Haven Superior Court.

Ullmann noted that Hayes told police that things "got out of control," and that Hayes' co-defendant Komisarjevsky said no one was supposed to get hurt, The Associated Press reported. Komisarjevsky is awaiting trial.

"It has been a very painful process to get to this day," Johanna Petit Chapman, Dr. Petit's sister, said outside court on Monday. "And although the pain will never end, we think of Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela every second of every day."

Petit and Hawke-Petit lived what seemed like a charmed life in an upscale neighborhood. Hayley, who was planning to attend Dartmouth College, was hoping to become a doctor and follow in her father's footsteps. Hawke-Petit had multiple sclerosis and the family was active in efforts to raise money to fight the disease.

In July 2007, authorities said Komisarjevsky followed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters from a grocery store, returning later with Hayes.

Hayes, 47, was accused of sexually assaulting and strangling Hawke-Petit. Komisarjevsky, 30, is charged with sexually assaulting Michaela. The two allegedly tied Michaela and Hayley to their beds, poured gasoline on and around them and set the house on fire, killing them.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky fled the burning home in the family's car and were caught after ramming several police cruisers, authorities said.

Former New York Supreme Court judge Leslie Crocker Snyder said on "Good Morning America" today that Petit's words could provide the most powerful testimony of the entire trial.

"I've never seen a case like this," she said. "I just can't imagine what he's going to go through."

Petit Has Said he Welcomes Chance to Tell Jury About Slain Family

Both defendants have offered to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences. But prosecutors, seeking the death penalty for both, pushed for trials, defense attorneys said, forcing the state to revisit the unsettling crime and its lone survivor to relive it in the courtroom.

"We've already seen that the defense attorney for this particular defendant has already conceded most of the facts," Snyder said.

In a case like this one, she said, Hayes' attorney will likely seek to separate his client from Komisarjevsky and play up any aspect of his behavior that might garner sympathy from the jurors "to show that his client was less culpable, which is almost inconceivable in this set of facts."

Hayes' trial was delayed significantly after he was put into a medically induced coma following a suicide attempt earlier this year.

After a recent court hearing, Petit said he welcomed hearing the names of his wife and daughters in court.

"Most of the process tends to be one of depersonalization," Petit said. "I was actually pleased to hear their names to show it was personal, they were people, living people. They can't be there to give their side of the events."

Another drama, this one involving the jury, unfolded in the courtroom Tuesday, as Petit completed his trial testimony. One of the jurors complained out loud to the judge that he felt the prosecution was doing a poor job of presenting the evicence.

The juror said he was "confused by the presentation of the state's case and bewildered by what seems to be lack of preparation. ...The evidence being presented to us has no explanation and no contextualization. It's as though the state expects jurors to have prior knowledge of this case."

Superior Court Judge Jon Blue said he had never seen an outburst like that in 21 years on the bench. He compared it to going to the Boston Marathon and at the half-mile marker having someone complain about how the race was being run. Blue granted a prosecution motion to dismiss the juror.

On Monday, two other jurors told the judge they couldn't be fair or bear to see the graphic evidence photos, according to the AP. With today's dismissal, three alternate jurors remain on the panel.

If Hayes is convicted, the same panel will weigh his fate in the penalty phase. Once the Hayes' case is finished, Komisarjevsky's trial will be scheduled.

Click here to visit the Web site for the Petit Family Foundation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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