NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Two suspects in a burglary and arson that left three people dead and shocked a suburban town last month faced a slew of charges Tuesday in a heavily secured courthouse.
Family members of the victims — the wife and daughters of a prominent doctor, who survived the attack — filled two rows in the packed courtroom. A man was escorted from the courtroom after he yelled "Killer!" as Joshua Komisarjevsky faced the judge. Otherwise, the brief hearing was quiet.
Komisarjevsky, 26, and Steven Hayes, 44, did not enter pleas and spoke only to answer yes or no questions. Department of Corrections special operations team members wearing fatigues and heavy black vests kept watch on the two.
The men have been held on $15 million bond since July 23, when they are accused of taking the family hostage, killing 48-year-old Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11.
The state medical examiner said Hawke-Petit, who was taken to a bank and forced to withdraw money during the ordeal, was strangled. The girls died from smoke inhalation after the family's home in suburban Cheshire was set ablaze.
William Petit Jr. was badly beaten but managed to escape. He did not attend Tuesday's hearing.
One of his patients did. Nancy Manning said she could not fathom how someone could break into her doctor's home in his quiet suburban neighborhood.
"I came here wanting to see what evil looked like," Manning said.
Jeremiah Donovan, the attorney appointed to represent Komisarjevsky as a special public defender, acknowledged the challenge of working on such a high-profile case.
"I myself live with a beloved wife and two lovely daughters, but I'm going to defend Joshua with all the ability and all the vigor that I might have," he said.
Patrick Culligan, one of Hayes' attorneys, did not comment except to say that at some point his client will enter a not guilty plea.
Komisarjevsky and Hayes, who met in a halfway house and were on parole when the crime occurred, are charged with capital felony, kidnapping, sexual assault, assault, burglary, robbery, arson, larceny and risk of injury to children. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.
Because executions are rare in New England, the defendants may be able to reach a plea deal to avoid the death penalty, said Hugh Keefe, a prominent defense attorney not involved in the case. One person has been executed in Connecticut since 1960.
Petit family members released a statement in which they say the state has a responsibility to hold the men accountable.
Komisarjevsky and Hayes will return to court Sept. 18.