NEW HAVEN, Conn. Nov. 5, 2010 -- Jurors were split over whether to doom Steven Hayes to death row or sentence him to life in prison for the grisly murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, according to jury notes released by the court today.
The jury's struggle to agree on a sentence for Hayes, 47, came towards the end of their first day of deliberations when they sent a note to Judge Jon Blue.
"What does it mean to unanimously find the existence of a statutory mitigating factor?" the note asked.
After meeting with the judge and resuming deliberations, a second note sought additional clarification on mitigating factors, specifically on mental capacity and "conforming to law."
Mitigating circumstances would allow the jurors to sentence Hayes to life in prison rather than to be executed. The note gave an example in which two jurors indicated that they saw no mitigating circumstances and Hayes should be to put to death.
Hayes sat calmly at the defense table, dressed in black and white checked button-down shirt and gray slacks.
Nearby sat Dr. William Petit, the lone survivor of the 2007 home invasion at the Petit house in Cheshire, Conn. Petit, who was beaten with a bat and left tied up, escaped to a neighbor's house to get help. Petit, as he has through the entire trial to convict Hayes and the trial for his sentencing showed no emotion.
Blue summoned the jurors into the courtroom and told them to keep in mind it's early in their deliberations and to keep working towards a consensus. They were sent home and will resume deliberations Saturday.
In order for the state to get its death penalty ruling, the jury must find Hayes guilty of several aggravating factors beyond just committing the crime, according to the state.
Those aggravating factors included committing the murders during the commission of third-degree burglary as well as committing the offenses in a "heinous manner, extreme physical or psychological pain above and beyond that which was necessary" and with "grave risk."
Prosecutors have argued that Hayes and his accused accomplice Joshua Komisarjevsky broke into the Petits' home and battered the husband, Dr. William Petit, with a bat. Petit escaped to a neighbor's house to call for help.
Death Penalty Jury Split in Steven Hayes Case
Hayes is convicted of raping and choking Hawke-Petit to death, while Komisarjevsky is accused of sexually assaulting 11-year-old Michaela Petit. Michaela and her older sister Hayley, 17, were tied to their beds and the house was set on fire.
In his closing argument, Connecticut State's Attorney Gary Nicholson pointed to photographs of a smiling Hawke-Petit, Hayley and Michaela and asked, "Were they in psychological pain? Were they tortured? Of course they were."
The defense has spent more than two weeks calling witnesses that have painted Hayes as a bumbling burglar who got swept up by Komisarjevsky's decision to turn the home invasion from what was meant to be a big money score to a murderous rampage.
Komisarjevsky, 30, is scheduled to stand trial early next year.