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Second Home Invasion Trial Begins in Connecticut

Dr. William Petit Jr. New Haven Sept 19.jpg

September 19: Dr. William Petit Jr. arrives at Superior Court in New Haven for the first day of the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky in New Haven, Connecticut. Petit is the sole survivor of the 2007 Cheshire, Conn., home invasion where his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit and their daughters, Hayley and Michaela, were murdered. (AP)

Attorneys for a Connecticut man charged with killing a woman and her two daughters during a gruesome home invasion told a jury Monday that the evidence will "shake your confidence in humanity" but blamed his co-defendant for the slayings.

Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, faces a possible death sentence if convicted. His co-defendant, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death last year.

Komisarjevsky did not intend to kill the three, said his attorney, Walter Bansley.

"The evidence you are about to hear will shake your confidence in humanity," Bansley said. "The deaths that occurred were senseless, unnecessary and tragic."

Authorities say the two paroled burglars broke into a Cheshire home in July 2007, beat Dr. William Petit and tied up his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and the couple's daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley. Hayes forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw money from a bank before he raped and strangled her in the family's home.

The girls, who had pillowcases placed over their heads, died of smoke inhalation after the house was doused with gasoline and set on fire.

Petit was also tied up but managed to escape to a neighbor's house to get help.

Bansley admitted that Komisarjevsky spotted Hawke-Petit and Michaela at a supermarket, followed them home and later returned to the house with Hayes to break in to get money. He admitted Komisarjevsky beat Petit with a baseball bat and tied up the family and that Komisarjevsky masturbated in Michaela's presence.

But he said the evidence shows Hayes raped and strangled Hawke-Petit, got the gas, poured it around the house and lit the fire.

Bansley said Hayes was worried about his DNA at the scene and told Komisarjevsky they would have to burn the house down and kill the family. He said Komisarjevsky was "stunned" and quoted from his confession to police that he told Hayes, "I'm not killing anyone. No one is dying by my hand today."

Bansley portrayed Komisarjevsky as panicked and indecisive, claiming he suffers from "cognitive difficulties" that makes him unable to make quick decisions in stressful situations.

During Hayes' trial, the defense blamed Komisarjevsky for escalating the violence and portrayed Komisarjevsky as the mastermind of the crime. They said Komisarjevsky had a long history of residential break-ins, attacked Petit with a bat, molested Michaela and pressured Hayes to sexually assault Hawke-Petit.

Prosecutors have repeatedly said both men were equally responsible for the crime.

On Monday, prosecutor Michael Dearington addressed the jury for only a few minutes, explaining the charges and the tragic nature of the crime.

Jeremiah Donovan, Komisarjevsky's attorney, noted Petit family supporters were wearing pins in memory of the victims. The defense has expressed concerns about such displays, saying they endanger their client's right to a fair trial.

Donovan called the supporters "the Petit posse," sparking a prosecutor's objection.

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