Dr.William Petit Challenged By Lawyer for Man Accused of Killing His Family

Lawyer for Joshua Komisarjevsky says Petit was too "woozy" to be reliable.

September 20, 2011, 7:45 AM

NEW HAVEN, Conn. Sept. 20, 2011— -- Dr. William Petit, the lone survivor of a gruesome Connecticut home invasion that left his wife and two daughters dead, was aggressively grilled today by a defense attorney who suggested that a blow to his head during the attack left him "woozy" and his recollection of that night unreliable.

Petit's cross examination came after he described to the court a harrowing attack in which he was beaten with a bat, bound to a pole in his basement where he could hear thumps and the groans of his wife, who was raped and strangled.

His testimony came in the second day of the murder trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, who is facing a possible death sentence for his role in the 2007 triple murder.

Petit had previously testified in the trial of Komisarjevsky's alleged accomplice Steven Hayes. Hayes was convicted and sentenced to death last year and is currently on Connecticut's death row.

Within seconds of the start of cross-examination, defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan was peppering Petit with questions about his recollection of the events of July 23, 2007.

Triple Murder Defense Grills Dr. William Petit, Lone Survivor of Attack

Donovan suggested that Petit's memory may have been "altered" by all the time he had spent in court listening to testimony. Petit attended every day of Hayes' trial.

Petit responded that "he didn't believe" his testimony had changed and that he had testified truthfully. Undeterred, Donovan spent the better part of an hour shooting rapid-fire questions at Petit as jurors took notes in their journals.

At one point, Donovan handed Petit a copy of his 2007 statements to police and asked which were accurate, "the ones made today or the ones made back then."

Petit responded, "I trust what's written, sir."

To which Donovan replied, "Don't trust me, sir." That flip response from the defense attorney drew small gasps from Petit family members sitting in court.

Donovan suggested that Petit's head injuries caused him to be "woozy" and in a "dreamlike" state of consciousness after he woke up in the hospital and that because of those injuries Petit couldn't possibly be so certain of his recollections.

The defense lawyer also challenged Petit about what he did not know, namely who killed his wife Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and his daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. The girls, tied to their beds, died when the house was set ablaze.

"You did not see who purchased and poured the gasoline and who lit the match, did you?" Donovan asked Petit.

The defense, which is trying to save Komisarjevsky from a death sentenced, contended in opening arguments that Komisarjevsky is a man with psychological "scars" who is easily led. He never intended to kill anyone that day and he only wanted to burglarize the suburban home. But events escalated out of his control, his lawyers argue.

It was Hayes who bought the gasoline and poured it in the home, and it was Hayes who raped and strangled Hawke-Petit and lit the match that set the house ablaze, Komisarjevsky's lawyers contend.

Earlier in the day Petit, wearing a dark grey suit and purple tie, answered questions from prosecutor Michael Dearington as pictures of his wife and daughters flashed onto a screen in the courtroom.

Petit said he heard one of the intruders upstairs say, "Don't worry, it will all be over soon" shortly before Petit made his escape from the basement to a neighbor's driveway.

It is the second day of testimony in Komisarjevsky's trial.

Dr. William Petit Is Face to Face Man Accused of Killing His Family

For the first time, Komisarjevsky's father, Benedict Komisarjevsky, showed up in court. Just before court was convened, the Rev. Richard Hawke, Jennifer Hawke-Petit's father, walked over to introduce himself and, according to the Hartford Courant said to the elder Komisarjevsky, "I just wanted to say I'm sorry about what happened….God Bless You." Komisarjevsky nodded.

In a calm and clear voice, Petit described his home and family life before the attack. He talked about the charity work his daughter's performed on behalf of multiple sclerosis, a disease his wife struggled with for most of her life. As he talked about his daughter's accomplishments, Petit choked up briefly and then continued with his answers.

Describing the normal, summer day before the murders, Petit said he golfed with his father and the girls took a day trip to the beach. Pasta and bruschetta were on the menu for dinner. After falling asleep downstairs on the couch, Petit woke up with blood gushing from his head and heard a male voice say, "If he moves, put a bullet in him."

The pain and blood, Petit would later learn, were allegedly caused by Komisarjevsky who beat him with a baseball bat. Jurors were shown pictures of blood-soaked pillows and blood around a basement pole where Petit had been tied up.

The doctor said he never heard his daughters, but he did hear his wife make a phone call to his office to tell them he wouldn't be in to work that day. He also heard her say she needed to get dressed and get her checkbook to make the trip to the bank.

On Monday, the first day of the murder trial, jurors saw surveillance video of Jennifer Hawke-Petit at the Cheshire, Conn., branch of Bank of America withdrawing $15,000 in a desperate bid to save her family's life.

During Hayes' trial, testimony stated that after returning from the bank with money, Hawke-Petit was raped and then strangled by Hayes.

During most of today's testimony, Komisarjevsky stared straight at the man whose life he is accused of destroying, occasionally passing notes to his lawyer.

This courtroom encounter between the two men was all the more dramatic today because of Komisarjevsky's jail house writings that came to light during the sentencing of Hayes.

In the 43 pages of diary writings that were introduced in court last year, Komisarjevsky wrote that Petit was a "coward" and "passive" toward saving his family. "He ran away when his own life was threatened…time and time again I gave him the chance to save his family," wrote Komisarjevsky.

In his writing, Komisarjevsky also claimed he did not rape 11-year-old Michaela as suggested during Hayes trial. Instead, he admitted to sexually assaulting the girl. "In a vulgar display of power, I ejaculated on her," wrote Komisarjevsky.

"I am what I am and make no excuses," he wrote. "I am a criminal with a criminal's mind, and my anticipated death sentence will be a sentence of mercy."