The 9-year-old daughter of convicted killer Joshua Komisarjevsky testified via videotape today in a bid to save the violent Connecticut home invader from the death penalty.
Jurors in the death penalty phase of Komisarjevsky's trial watched the 20-minute videotape and listened as the girl laughed, and talked about a best friend and how much she loved animals.
She also discussed her father, who she referred to as Josh, not "dad," saying he was a man she used to play with at her grandparents' home. She said he had gone to jail for "something he had done at work."
The girl lived with her grandparents at the time of the 2007 murders. She is not being identified to protect her privacy.
The videotaped testimony was shown over the objection of Komisarjevsky, himself, who addressed the court for the first time during his trial, though his voice was heard previously during a taped confession.
Komisarjevsky, 31, has been convicted of 17 counts including the murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, Hayley Petit, 17, and Michaela Petit, 11, during a brutal invasion of the family's Cheshire, Conn., home in 2007.
The verdict included six aggravating factors including that Komisarjevsky and his accomplice Steven Hayes committed the murders in "an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner." The mother was raped and strangled. The girls were tied to their beds and the house and their beds were splashed with gasoline before the house was set afire.
Hawke-Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit, testified that he was bound and badly beaten separately in the home's basement, but managed to escape.
Hayes has already been sentenced to death and is on Connecticut's death row.
Komisarjevsky's daughter was interviewed by Caroline Burry, a social worker, last weekend, but did not know she was being taped.
Burry took the stand after the videotape was played and testified that if Komisarjevsky was executed it could be "very damaging" to the girl, who is currently living with her maternal aunt. Her name has been changed and it is believed that none of her friends knows about her father's crimes.
The girl's testimony has been a point of contention for weeks as an attorney for the girl's guardian sought to prevent the interview, citing the possible psychological repercussions and a fear that her identity could become known.
But Jeremiah Donovan, one of Komisarjevsky's attorneys, said that showing the videotape was important because it would allow the jurors to see his client as a loving father who, records show, has seen his daughter 55 times during his incarceration -- instead of seeing him as just a cold-blooded killer.
But today, Komisarjevsky went against his own attorney's wishes. He addressed the judge in an attempt to prevent the videotape from being shown to the jury.
Komisarjevsky, who wore a dark suit and tie, read in a low voice from a piece of paper -- a prepared statement that his defense attorneys insisted he prepared on his own.
"Among many other considerations, I have carefully come to the overwhelming opinion that I am not at all comfortable putting my daughter in a position wherein she may feel that she has to explain or justify herself to anyone who perceives her statements to somehow help one of the most hated people in America," Komisarjevsky said.
"She's 9 years old. Had this interview been her decision to make, and she was old enough to understand that decision, that would be one thing. However, that is not the case in this situation. The decision has been made for her," he said.
Komisarjevsky went on to say that his daughter's words had been coached and that her current guardian punishes the girl if she mentions his name.
Komisarjevsky also told the judge, "It should also be considered how her memorialized words will affect her emotionally and psychologically in the future if she believes she's party to assisting the efforts to put me to death.
"For me, this isn't just some detached intellectualized argument on my part. Of all parties involved, I have the most at stake. My life is quite literally on the line," he said.
The convicted killer ended his statement by saying, "In closing, I will not beg for my life. I will humbly request in earnest that your honor please uphold a thoughtfully weighed decision of the defendant over the wish of the defense team."
Despite Komisarjevsky's request, Judge Jon C. Blue ruled that the videotape could be shown to the jury.
The media and the public were prevented from seeing the girl's face as the videotape was played.
On the stand, Blurry testified that the 9-year-old was doing quite well considering the upheaval in her young life but maintained that could change.
The girl was born in 2002 while Joshua Komisarjevsky sat in jail serving time for a string of burglaries.
Komisarjevsky and the girl's mother shared custody until he filed for sole custody in 2007, claiming his ex-girlfriend was abusing drugs. Komisarjevsky gained sole custody and his daughter moved into the home of his parents, Jude and Benedict Komisarjevsky.
Although it is becoming more common for children to testify in court, it is almost unheard of for a child to testify in a death penalty sentencing hearing.
In 2001, in Los Angeles, a prosecutor called four children to testify against their father, Marco Barrera, who had been convicted of killing several of his other children. The situation caused outrage among child advocates.
"These children are going to have to deal with the ramifications of this testimony for the rest of their lives," attorney Val Valle told the Los Angeles Times in 2001.
Komisarjevsky's defense attorneys have spent the past two weeks bringing a parade of witnesses into court to testify to the mitigating factors of a difficult upbringing that would justify a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole instead of a death sentence.
Witnesses have testified that Komisarjevsky was sexually abused as a very young child by a foster brother and that he had several severe head injuries when he was a child. Komisarjevsky's parents also took the stand to explain that they sought help for their son through the church because they did not believe in psychological counseling.
The prosecution is arguing that the aggravating factors of the murders justify the death penalty in this case.