MERIDEN, Conn. – Authorities need more time to review evidence before deciding whether to pursue charges that could bring the death penalty for two convicted burglars accused of killing a woman and her two daughters in a brutal home invasion, the New Haven state's attorney said Wednesday.
State's Attorney Michael Dearington said he must make sure all the evidence is in place before deciding whether to pursue capital felony charges, which carry only two possible penalties -- lethal injection or life in prison without the chance of parole.
"I know the public consensus is they should be fried tomorrow," he said.
The two burglars were out on parole Monday when they broke into the home of a prominent Cheshirephysician and held his family hostage for hours before setting the home on fire, authorities said.
Joshua Komisarjevsky, 26, of Cheshire, and Steven Hayes, 44, of Winsted, were arraigned Tuesday on charges of assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, arson, larceny and risk of injury to children. More charges are pending, state police said Tuesday night.
The state medical examiner confirmed that Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, was strangled and that her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, died of smoke inhalation. The deaths were ruled homicides.
The girls' father, Dr. William Petit Jr., a prominent endocrinologist, remained hospitalized with head injuries.
"He's doing OK physically. Emotionally he is devastated and still worried about others," said Petit's pastor, the Rev. Stephen Volpe, who visited the doctor Monday and Tuesday. Volpe added that Petit's relatives are keeping from him certain details of the case. He would not elaborate.
The suspects entered the Petits' Cheshire home at about 3 a.m. Monday, planning to burglarize it, state police said. When they found the family at home, they beat Dr. Petit, then tied up his wife and daughters, police said.
Employees at a bank called police after one of the suspects forced Hawke-Petit to make a withdrawal around 9:30 a.m., officials said. The men were caught in the family's car after ramming several police cruisers as they fled the burning home, authorities said.
Hawke-Petit and her daughters were found dead inside. Dr. Petit escaped the blaze and told police what happened.
Komisarjevsky and Hayes, both in orange prison jump suits and shackles, did not enter pleas and answered only "Yes" a few times when asked if they understood their rights. Their public defenders declined to comment after the proceeding.
Bail was set at $15 million apiece. Their next court appearance was scheduled for Aug. 7.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky each have more than 20 prior burglaries on their records. At the time of the killings, both were free on parole after serving prison time for burglary convictions in 2003, Bail Commissioner Garcia Harris said. They spent time last year in the same halfway house in Hartford before being paroled in the spring.
Prison officials said they reported each week to their parole officers and were employed full-time, a requirement of their release.
"That's why this is sort of shocking — because it doesn't fit a normal mode," Farr said.
The parole board's staff scoured its files Tuesday to see if any mistakes were made and couldn't find any obvious problems, according to Farr.
"But three people died," Farr said. "We're not going to say, `Those things happen.' We've got to see if there is anything we can do that would reduce the likelihood of this happening in the future."
In Connecticut, prisoners may be released from confinement and receive parole after serving more than half of their sentences.
Authorities have not said what they believe led Komisarjevsky and Hayes to the Petits' home.
The family issued a statement Tuesday through the hospital where the doctor was being treated.
"Our precious family members have been the victims of horrible, senseless, violent assaults. We are understandably in shock and overwhelmed with sadness as we attempt to gather together to support one another and recognize these wonderful, giving beautiful individuals, who have been so cruelly taken from us," the statement said.
Petit, president of the Hartford County Medical Association, is a specialist in diabetes and endocrinology and is the medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain. Hawke-Petit, 48, was a nurse and co-director of the health center at Cheshire Academy, a private boarding school.
The attack stunned Cheshire, an upper-middle class community of 29,000 just east of Waterbury and about 15 miles north of New Haven.
Neighbors Sean Clarke and Joseph Noel, both 11, said the only other incidents in their neighborhood that they could remember were a car accident and a chimney fire.
"I was seriously scared," Sean said. "I was freaked out."
Komisarjevsky lived less than two miles from the Petits' home. His family also released a statement Tuesday.
"This is an absolute tragedy. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the Petit family (and all those whose lives they touched). We cannot understand what would have made something like this happen. There is nothing else we can say at this time," the statement said.
Komisarjevsky lived less than two miles from the victims. Authorities did not say what they believe led Komisarjevsky and Hayes to the Petits' home.
Relatives and friends of the Petits went to the court appearance but did not comment afterward.
Nancy Manning of Rocky Hill said she had a medical appointment scheduled with Dr. Petit on Tuesday, but his office called her to tell her it had been canceled. She went to the Meriden court proceeding.
"It's a very sad day," she said. "The man's life is disintegrated now. His family was his life."
Hawke-Petit, 48, was a well-liked nurse and co-director of the health center at Cheshire Academy, a private boarding school. Academy officials said grief counseling was available and e-mails were sent out Tuesday to the parents of the nearly 400 students.
"We're an international school, so a lot of our kids are literally in a lot of other countries right now," said Cheshire Academy spokesman Philip Moore.
"We wish there wasn't a separation," he said. "While we're geographically distant, we're emotionally close."
Moore said a memorial service may be held when classes resume in the fall.
Volpe, Petit's pastor at Cheshire United Methodist Church, said the church would remain open over the next three days for prayer and meditation for mourners.
Helayne Lightstone, a spokeswoman for The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain, said an employee prayer service for Dr. Petit will be held at the hospital on Friday at noon. It will not be open to the public.
The hospital has also made grief counselors available to staff.
"Another day has gone by and it's no less shocking," she said.