Petit Murder Trial Hears Joshua Komisarjevsky's Taped Confession

Judge shuts off tape player when confession becomes graphic.

September 21, 2011, 8:36 AM

Sept. 21, 2011— -- Jurors listened today to an audiotape of Joshua Komisarjevsky describing how plans to rob the home of Dr. William Petit spiraled into a "home invasion gone terribly wrong," leaving Petit's wife and two daughters dead in a burning house.

Komisarjevsky, 31, was heard on the tape saying he beat Petit with a baseball bat until he stopped screaming and that he and his alleged accomplice, Steven Hayes, shook a "confused but calm" Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters awake and tied them up.

Komisarjevsky said that he reassured the women that he would not hurt them.

The audio tape was played as prosecutor Michael Dearington questioned Detective Joe Vitello who talked to Komisarjevsky shortly after he was taken into custody on July 23, 2007, the night of the attack on the Petit family.

Vitello knew Komisarjevsky, a petty thief, from prior arrests and offered him pizza before asking him if he agreed to give a voluntary statement. It was the first time most courtroom observers had heard Komisarjevsky's voice, and it was emotionless and flat, despite it being just hours removed from leaving the horrific scene which he told Vitello was a "home invasion gone terribly wrong."

Today was the third day of testimony in the trial of Komisarjevsky, who is charged with 17 counts for his alleged role in the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 42, Hayley Petit,17, and Michaela Petit, 11. Hayes was convicted and sentenced to death last year for his part in the triple murder. He is currently on Connecticut's death row.

On the tape, Komisarjevsky described the first time he saw Hawke-Petit shopping with one of her daughters for groceries at a Stop 'n Shop. He noticed she was driving a nice car and trailed her home, noting she lived in a nice house.

Komisarjevsky said on the tape he spent the next few hours with his own daughter and put her to bed. After that he met up with Hayes and they hatched a plan to rob the Petit house.

After donning masks, the two men entered the house through an unlocked basement door and after some hesitation, according to Komisarjevsky, started to beat Dr. Petit with a baseball bat and then tied him up. Komisarjevsky said he and Hayes searched the house for money and valuables. Finding none they asked Petit's wife to drive to her bank and make a $15,000 withdrawal.

Testimony in Hayes' trial last year said that after Hawke-Petit returned with the money, he raped and strangled her.

On the audio tape, Komisarjevsky said it was Hayes who said they needed gas to burn the house down and kill the Petits because they might be able to identify them. Komisarjevsky said on tape that things between him and Hayes started to get tense. And that it was Hayes who went out to get the gas that would be used to set the house on fire.

In a particularly ugly portion of the audiotape, Komisarjevsky said he sexually assaulted the 11-year-old child at which point the judge abruptly shut off the tape. Dr. Petit was sitting in the front row where he has been for every day of the Hayes and now the Komisarjevsky trial.

Jurors also viewed graphic and disturbing photos today taken at the burnt ruins of the Petit home. Capt. Robert Vignola of the Cheshire, Conn., police said he had never been to a more "horrific" crime scene.

The judge warned the jurors early on that it would not be easy to look at the images.

The photographic evidence was introduced as volunteer firefighter Rick Trocchi testified that he found a body at the top of the stairs in the burning home. Prosecutors then showed Trocchi a photograph of a body and he identified it as Hayley Petit, who had managed to free herself after being tied to her bed.

Hayley and Michaela, who was also tied to her bed, died of smoke inhalation. The mother was raped and strangled. The house was then set ablaze.

Jurors also viewed photographs of the bodies of Hawke-Petit and her daughter, Michaela. Courtroom observers said it was the photo of Michaela – taken in her charred bedroom - that seemed to disturb jurors the most as some wiped away tears as they passed the photo along to other jurors. Courtroom observers also remarked that the Petit family seemed visibly shaken as the photos were viewed by jurors today.

In dramatic testimony, firefighters described battling their way through thick smoke to find anyone left inside. The fire was still burning when they entered the home and, according to Trocchi, visibility on the stairs was almost zero. The fire had burned so fiercely and for so long they were concerned about the safety of the stairs as they ascended looking for survivors. Firefighters used thermal imaging equipment to see through the thick smoke.

Defense attorneys for Komisarjevsky had earlier tried to have the photos excluded calling them "prejudicial," but Judge Jon Blue overruled their objections.

Vignola described the chaos as first responders arrived to the house. Initially police thought there might be a third suspect, but it turned out to be a police officer in a black t-shirt.

Police radio transmission from that day played for the jury echoed the confusion that morning. The two suspects had taken the Petit family car and used it to ram a police cruiser in an attempt to get away. Komisarjevsky was the driver of that car and told police officers at the time that three women were still inside the house.

Komisarjevsky faces a possible death sentence if convicted and his defense is trying to show that his accomplice Steven Hayes was responsible for the murders and that Komisarjevsky should be spared execution.

Defense attorney Todd A. Bussert tried to use that confusion to suggest that police wasted valuable time outside the house before running inside to find anyone who might still be alive.

In cross examination of Cheshire police Sgt. Phillip Giampietro, defense attorneys also tried to show that first responders might have made the fire in the home worse because they opened the front door to the home allowing oxygen to get inside.

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