Petit Murder Case: Attorney Asks Death Penalty Jury to Relive 'Night of Hell'

In closing argument, Steven Hayes' attorney blamed media's "thirst for blood."

November 1, 2010, 12:09 PM

NEW HAVEN, Conn. Nov. 4, 2010— -- A Connecticut jury today was asked one more time to go through the "night of hell" that ended with the murders of a mother and her two daughters as the hands of a man the state is trying to execute.

In his closing argument this morning, Connecticut State's Attorney Gary Nicholson, requested the jurors consider what Jennifer Hawke-Petit was thinking the night convicted murdererSteven Hayes "choked the life out of her."

"Were they in psychological pain?" Nicholson asked as photographs of a smiling Hawke-Petit and her two murdered daughters, Hayley, 17 and Michaela, 11, were shown. "Were they tortured? Of course they were."

State's Attorney Michael Dearington showed the jury one final photograph of the Petit family. Several friends and Petit family members bowed their heads and started quietly sobbing, holding tissues to their faces.

Dearington ended by saying, "There were two beautiful girls, one loving mother and one family destroyed."

The state is pushing for Hayes -- convicted of 16 felony counts relating to the 2007 home invasion at the Petit house -- to be handed the death penalty for his role in the murders and the rapes of Hawke-Petit and Michaela.

The defense has spent more than two weeks calling witnesses that have painted Hayes as a bumbling burglar who got swept up by co-defendant Joshua 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.

"The law in Connecticut reserves the death penalty for the ultimate worst crimes -- the worst of the worst," Nicholson said. "If there ever was a case where the facts and the law required the death penalty this is it."

"Furthermore," he said "justice demands it."

Steven Hayes' Lawyer Says He's Not a 'Rabid Dog'

In order for the state to get its death penalty ruling, the jury, which is expected to be charged later today, must find him 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."

But defense attorney Thomas Ullman implored jurors to rise above the "bloodlust" when they deliberate, accusing intense media coverage of the case of causing "thirst for blood in the air."

In a dramatic move, Ullman asked his client to stand up before the court.

"This is a human being. You may not like him ... but he is not a rabid dog," Ullman said, comparing Hayes' existence to that of a "rat in a cage."

He also told the jury that if they wanted to punish Hayes, a life sentence would be more cruel for Hayes to endure than execution.

"If you want to end Steven Hayes' torment you should kill him," Ullman said."Iif you want to end his misery and overwhelming guilt and nightmares about this case, you should kill him ... that would be the easy way out for him."

Giving him life in prison would sentence him to a life of misery, Ullman argued.

Ullman ended his remarks by quoting Martin Luther King Jr. "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands at moments of comfort," he said, "but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

The sentencing phase of the trial has not been without drama.

The state rested its case early on after calling a court clerk on the first morning to read a list of all of Hayes' prior convictions.

Then, on Monday, Judge Jon Blue called out an amorous alternate juror for trying to catch a court employee's attention.

Blue revealed to the courtroom that the sole remaining alternate juror attempted Friday to pass a note to one of the court marshals that read "Sunday 5pm. Side Street Grill. Can we?"

The note was apparently intended to elicit a romantic affair. The judge called it a matter of "spectacular" and "poor" judgment and further said it was "goddamn dumb thing to do," all the more so because several alternate jurors had already been dismissed leaving an extremely thin jury pool.

Steven Hayes Jury to Decide Whether He Gets Executed

If there were any complications to one of the sitting jurors, Blue warned the court, the entire trial could have been thrown into question.

The embarrassed juror was questioned in open court about the note and flushed red, hiding her head in her hands.

"I have embarrassed myself," she said.

Blue eventually ruled that she should not be dismissed as an alternate juror, because the situation "did not affect her impartiality" and they needed her on the panel.

The jury was read a letter Monday from Hayes to his only son, Steven Jr., dated 2005 in which the elder Hayes admitted to being a drug addict and apologized for being a bad father.

"So you see bad drugs and my using cost me everything," wrote. "It is cunning, baffling and powerful."

Hayes ended his letter, "Steven, I love you and hope to one day have the chance to make it up to you."

Last week jurors were read a letter from Hayes' younger brother, in which he claimed Hayes tortured him, burning him on the stove on one point and at another time holding a gun to his head.

"Steven is what Steven is because he is a coward," Matthew Hayes wrote in the letter, which was read by a clerk. "As family of this monster we all have to live with this nightmare."

Psychiatrist Dr. Eric Goldsmith, however, told the jury Thursday that it was Komisarjevsky who came up with the idea to rob a house in well-to-do Cheshire. Hayes, he said, didn't know ahead of time that the home invasion would involve rape, murder and a fire to destroy the evidence.

Komisarjevsky, Goldsmith testified, told Hayes during the invasion that he'd already gotten DNA on one of the girls so they'd have to kill them both and urged Hayes to get his hands dirty.

Goldsmith's testimony revealed Hayes had sex with Hawke-Petit after he strangled her and that Komisarjevsky told Hayes that Dr. William Petit -- the sole survivor of the home invasion -- had died. Petit had been bound and badly beaten, but managed to escape to a neighbor's house and call for help.

When Hayes worried about the DNA evidence that would be left at the scene, Komisarjevsky allegedly shot back, "fire kills everything," Goldsmith testified.

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