Conn. home invasion defendant: Death a 'relief'

A Connecticut man sentenced to death Thursday in the killings of a woman and her two daughters said his execution will be "a welcome relief," while the only survivor of the gruesome home invasion told a judge he had struggled with suicidal thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks.

Steven Hayes made his first public comments about the case before being formally sentenced by New Haven Superior Court Judge Jon Blue. A jury last month determined Hayes should die.

"I am deeply sorry for what I have done and the pain I have caused," Hayes told Blue. "My actions have hurt so many people, affected so many lives, and caused so much pain. I am tormented and have nightmares about what happened in that house."

Hayes, who did not testify during his trial, said he wanted money for drugs but makes no excuses for what he did.

"But this was not the real me, this was an angry monster I have never known, a monster so full of rage it was impossible to control," Hayes said.

Hayes said he wished he had been successful in his suicide attempts before the crime.

"Death for me will be a welcome relief, and I hope it will bring some peace and comfort to those who I have hurt so much," Hayes said.

Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled Jennifer Hawke-Petit. Authorities say he and co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky tied her daughters to their beds, poured gasoline on or around them and set fire to their Cheshire home in 2007. Komisarjevsky goes on trial next year.

"This is a terrible sentence, but is, in truth, a sentence you wrote for yourself in flames," the judge told Hayes.

Dr. William Petit, who was severely beaten with a baseball bat but survived the attack on his family, told the court he had seriously considered suicide many times after the deaths of his wife, whom he called his best friend, and their two young daughters. Petit fought back tears as he talked about his family.

"I miss my entire family, my home, everything we had together. They were three special people," he said. "I lost my entire family. I lost the records of our shared lives together due to the fire. Thus I lost my past and my future."

Petit said after the crime he was better able to appreciate and understand the extraordinary loss suffered by Holocaust victims.

"Here unfathomable evil acts visited upon innocents by two men caused our personal Holocaust," Petit said. "My only hope is for justice to be served and to do my best to honor the lives of my family who should still all be here and share their gifts and love with the world."

The killings, which drew comparisons to the 1959 slayings portrayed in Truman Capote's book "In Cold Blood," were so unsettling that they became a key issue in the death penalty debate in Connecticut's governor's race and led to tougher state laws for repeat offenders and home invasions. Gov. M. Jodi Rell cited the case when she vetoed a bill that would have abolished the death penalty.

Hayes will join nine other men on Connecticut's death row. The state has only executed one man since 1960, so the 47-year-old Hayes will likely spend years, if not decades, in prison.

Defense attorney Thomas Ullmann said the crime caused unimaginable loss, but he condemned the death penalty.

"Today when the court sentences Steven Hayes to death everyone becomes a killer," Ullmann said. "We all become Steven Hayes."

Dr. Petit's sister, Johanna Petit Chapman, said Hayes is not remorseful and urged the court to impose the death penalty.

"There are some acts and some people who are so evil that they do not deserve life and Steven Hayes falls into that category," she said.

As Dr. Petit and other relatives spoke, photos of his smiling family on vacation, the girls as babies, and other happy occasions were flashed on a screen. They said their lives were filled with endless birthday celebrations, vacations, University of Connecticut games, church and charitable work for a variety of causes, including raising money for multiple sclerosis, which his wife suffered from.

Petit noted that his oldest daughter, 17-year-old Hayley, won early acceptance to Dartmouth and would now be a senior. His younger daughter, 11-year-old Michaela, was an aspiring cook.

Petit said he has suffered impaired vision and loss of balance due to the attack. He said he slept little for months until he found medication that allowed him to sleep, but then he suffered nightmares and flashbacks.

Petit said he misses the little daily activities with his family, like talking about medicine, collecting seashells on the beach, sharing a quiet meal and sitting in the family room eating popcorn and watching Hayley's favorite TV show, "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." He also misses Michaela running to the door in excitement when he arrived home.

"There is a giant hole in the universe, in my heart, and I do not understand it," Petit said.

Petit said a week before the murders, he and his wife talked about their future and whether they would move or change career paths. But they could think of few changes to make, other than spending more time together.

"We were satisfied," he said.