Petit Conn. Murder Trial: Focus Turns to Police Response

Police say half-hour passed aftere 911 call before house set on fire.

ByABC News
September 13, 2010, 4:59 PM

NEW HAVEN, Conn., Sept. 15, 2010 — -- A Cheshire, Conn., police captain today defended the department's response at the scene of a home invasion that ended with the torture, rape and killing of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela,11, in 2007.

Capt. Robert Vignola acknowledged that a half-hour passed between the time police first learned of the break-in, and the time they saw the two accused murderers, Steven Hayes, 47, and Joshua Komisarjevsky, 30, run out of the house, get into the Petit's car, and try to escape. It was only then that police noticed the house was on fire.

Vignola said there was no sign of activity inside when police arrived, and that they set up a perimeter around the Petit house, in accordance with standard procedure. He said that if he had known what was going on inside, "I would have been the first one through that door," The Associated Press reported.

Vignola's testimony came after jurors listened to a recording of a 911 call, made by the manager at the Bank of America branch in Cheshire, where Hawke-Petiti had gone to withdraw $15,000 in hopes of placating her assailants.

"We have a lady who is in our bank right now who says that her husband and children are being held at their house," the manager told a 911 operator during the July 2007 incident. "The people are in a car outside the bank. She is getting $15,000 to bring out to them. [She says] that if the police are told that they will kill the children and the husband.

"They told her they wouldn't hurt anybody if she got back there with the money," the caller said. "She believes them."

Hawke-Petit may have believed her abductors would let her go, but they are accused of taking her home where she was sexually assaulted and killed. They also tied up and assaulted her husband, Dr. William Petit, a prominent Connecticut doctor.

Hayes, is accused of sexually assaulting and strangling Hawke-Petit. Komisarjevsky, who is awaiting trial, is charged with sexually assaulting Michaela.

The trial resumed Thursday with Hayes' lawyer telling Judge Jon Blue that Hayes had suffered seizure-like symptoms and urinated on himself Wednesday night. But the accused man was in the courtroom Thursday, and the judge let the trial proceed.

The July 2007 ordeal began, authorities said, as Komisarjevsky followed Hawke-Petit and her two daughters from a grocery store. At the end of the ordeal, the two allegedly tied Michaela and Hayley to their beds, poured gasoline on and around them and set the house on fire, killing them and their mother.

Today, jurors were shown photos of the burned clothing Michaela was wearing, and the burned out house.

On Wednesday, Dr. Petit, the sole survivor, sobbed as jurors in New Haven Superior Court saw graphic photos of his daughters' bodies. A juror also cried as the evidence was passed among jurors, The Associated Press reported.

After describing a pleasant Sunday leading up to the killings, Dr. Petit testified Tuesday that he was beaten in his sleep and woke up around 3 a.m. face-to-face with Hayes and Komisarjevsky.

"I remember I awoke in a daze thinking or feeling ow, ow, ow," he testified. "Something warm was running down the front of my face. ... I saw two people standing in front of the sofa. ... [A] person who was walking said if he moves put two bullets in him."

Petit said the men bound his wrists and ankles with rope and plastic ties, and covered his face, then took him down to the basement, where they tied him to a pole. He said he went in and out of consciousness. Upstairs were Hawke-Petit and the couple's two daughters.

"I heard moaning and thumps. I may have yelled out, 'Hey!' Then he said he heard someone upstairs say, 'You are alright, don't worry it's going to be all over in a couple minutes.' It was a different tone, it was much more sinister," he testified.

Petit said he did not know the fate of his wife and daughters,but said he heard his wife in the kitchen tell one of the attackersshe needed to change clothes and get a checkbook.