Feb. 15, 2011 -- A Connecticut judge who presided over a grisly trial of man sentenced to death for three murders during a home invasion will be allowed to preside over the trial of the man's accomplice, a court ruled today.
Accused killer Joshua Komisarjevsky, whose murder trial is scheduled to being March 14, appeared relaxed and smiled during the proceedings and waved to his father in the courtroom.
Komisarjevsky, 30, faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted for the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters 11-year old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley in their Cheshire, Conn., home in 2007.
Dr. William Petit, the lone survivor of the attack, was also in the courtroom today.
Both men were accused of breaking into the Petit home, beating Dr. Petit with a baseball bat and tying him to a post.
According to court documents, the two then ransacked the house, and at one point Hayes drove Hawke-Petit to the bank and forced her to withdraw money. The mother was later raped and strangled. One of the girls was also sexually assaulted. Both girls were tied to their beds, while the house and their beds were doused with gasoline and set on fire.
Only Dr. Petit was able to escape.
Hayes readily admitted his guilt, was meekly quiet during his trial and even said he was grateful for the death sentence. Komisarjevsky's trial, however, will likely be different.
"In ordinary cases you go out of your way to instruct your client on how to behave," said Hugh Keefe, a New Haven defense attorney who is not involved in the Petit trial. "The problem here is it doesn't make any difference because the evidence is so overwhelming... but I doubt that his antics or conduct will make any difference."
Komisarjevsky and his legal team has peppered the court with a series of motions that have already delayed the trial from Feb. 22 to mid March.
Among his requests was to remove Judge Jon Blue, who presided over Hayes' trial, from presiding over the new trial claiming the judge was too emotionally involved in the case.
The defense team cited examples of bias that included cookies being handed out during the trial and that some of the cookies were given to supporters of the Petit family, and that Blue creating reserved seating for family members and the media, and encouraged jurors to hug each other after some graphic testimony during the Hayes trial.
Another Trial In the Petit Murders to Begin March 14
"A judge has to stay above the fray," said Todd Bussert, one of Komisarjevsky's attorneys. "That is a direct appeal to emotion. We want a judge who can stay above the fray, because that's what the law requires."
Judge Brian Fischer, however, ruled that the evidence that Komisarjevsky's team presented against Blue did not show "actual bias" and declined to remove Blue from the trial.
Defense motions have also complained that Blue reserved two rows of seats directly behind the prosecution and closest to the jurors for family and friends of Petit, effectively creating what they called a "Petit posse" that pressured the jurors to convict Hayes and sentence him to death.
In addition, two rows of seats behind the defense team were reserved for the media.
In Komisarjevsky's trial, the defense lawyers asked in their motions that only one row of seats be reserved for the Petit family and that others be scattered through the courtroom. They also asked that no one be allowed to wear pins or shirts indicating support for the Petit family.
Komisarjevsky's lawyers objected to any reserved seats for the media and asked the judge to ban any electronic devices in the court because during Hayes' trial reporters used Twitter -- what the lawyers called "haiku journalism" -- to report events directly from the courtroom.
His attorneys will now try to get the trial moved to another jurisdiction arguing that the jury pool is tainted and that it will be impossible for him to get a fair trial in New Haven.
"His legal team is fully aware that the chances of winning are less than 1 percent. These motions are being made and argued not for the trial court, but for the appellate court with the anticipation that he will be convicted," said Keefe. "They are hoping the court makes a reversible error that gets him off the death penalty, and gives him life in prison."
"They will be fighting this case for years at a great cost to taxpayers. This is exactly the type of case that those pointing to repealing the death penalty cite," Keefe said.
In fact, lawmakers in both houses of the Connecticut legislature voted to repeal the death penalty in 2009 . But then Gov. Jodi Rell vetoed the order. Current Gov. Dan Malloy has said that he would sign legislation abolishing the death penalty. The Connecticut state legislature may consider repealing the death penalty again in May, which could be at the height of the Komisarjevsky trial.
The Associated Press contributed to this report