NEW HAVEN, Conn. Sept. 27, 2011 -- Remnants of the torn and scorched shorts and shirt that 11-year-old Michaela Petit was wearing when she died were shown to a Connecticut jury today as prosecutors detailed how gasoline poured in the house was meant to lead an arson fire right to her bed.
The grim testimony and pictures were presented in the triple murder trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky.
The evidence of arson was discovered in the aftermath of the rape and strangulation of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her daughters, Michaela and her older sister, 17-year-old Hayley.
Their bodies were found in the charred remains of the Petit's suburban home in Cheshire, Conn., July 23, 2007. Komisarjevsky, 31, could be ordered executed if convicted. His accomplice, Steven Hayes, was found guilty last year and sentenced to death. Hayes is currently on Connecticut's death row.
Gabianelli testified that specially trained dogs were brought to the scene in the three days after the murders as police and fire officials combed the house for evidence. The dogs identified the use of an accelerant throughout the house. Gasoline was identified on the stairs leading up the second floor, in the second floor hallway, and in the bedrooms of both girls, who were left tied to their beds, Gabianellli said.
Photographs of the girl's bedrooms flashed on the screen showing heavy fire damage and charred mattresses. Gabianelli also testified that nylon pantyhose was still lashed to the posts on Hayley Petit's bed. "A portion of nylon that was consistent with pantyhose was found," she said.
The nylons had been used to tie Hayley Petit to her bed, according to testimony in Hayes' trial. Rope restraints were discovered on Michaela Petit's bed.
Gabianelli said that the scissors used to cut Michaela's clothing off her body were found on the floor of her bedroom. "We seized a cotton bra…and it was obvious from looking at the straps that the straps had been cut," the investigator said.
In his audiotaped confession Komisarjevsky, 31, said he used scissors to cut off her top and shorts before he molested the girl. Michaela Petit's body was found still tied to her bed. She had succumbed to smoke inhalation.
Hayley Petit's body was found at the top of the stairs just outside of her bedroom. Gabianelli identified an article of clothing found at the scene that belonged to the teenager. "The plaid shorts that Hayley Petit was wearing had melted into the carpet itself," said Gabianelli.
Although both rooms sustained heavy damage in the fire, there were still heart-wrenching flashes that identified them as girl's bedrooms. Some purple carpeting amidst the burned furniture can be seen in one area and a pink bag is hanging from a bed post. Colorful postcards were attached to one wall in Hayley Petit's bedroom.
There was also significant evidence that Komisarjevsky and Hayes had ransacked the house looking for money and jewelry, said Gabianelli. Drawers in the master bedroom were torn out and clothing was strewn about the floor. "They looked like they had been gone through," said Gabianelli.
Komisarjevsky's lawyers, in an attempt to save him from the death penalty, are trying to show that it was Hayes -- not Komisarjevsky -- who poured the gasoline and started the fire.
Komisarjevsky appears to be taking an active role in his defense. He is alert and often talks to his lawyers. When photographs are posted to the giant video screen next to his head, he seems to stare at them intently.
During a recent break, Komisarjevsky seemed relaxed, almost jovial after he walked out of one room and offered a smile to a court clerk.