NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A defense lawyer, saying his client would "concede much, but not all" of the case against him, told a jury Monday that the defendant killed a Connecticut mother in a home invasion three years ago that also resulted in the deaths of her two children.
Steven Hayes' trial began Monday in New Haven Superior Court with a prosecutor warning jurors that they would hear "indescribable" details and with Hayes' own attorney admitting that his client was involved in the violent home invasion.
Hayes, 47, is trying to avoid to possibility of being put to death in the killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her 11- and 17-year-old daughters. Her husband and the only survivor of the home invasion in Cheshire, Dr. William Petit, was scheduled to testify.
Authorities say Hayes forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw money from a bank before she was killed.
The bank teller who served her, Kristin Makhzangi, was the first witness to testify. She said Hawke-Petit told her she needed to withdraw $15,000 because her family was being held hostage.
"Her hands were a little shaky but she was not overly anxious," Makhzangi said. "She was focusing on our conversation."
Makhzangi said she talked with bank manager Mary Lyons, gave Hawke-Petit the money and then saw her get into a car that police say was being driven by Hayes. Lyons simultaneously called police.
Prosecutors played for the jury the tape of Lyons' 911 call.
"She is petrified," Lyons told a dispatcher.
Earlier in the day, Public Defender Thomas Ullmann told the jury that Hayes sexually assaulted and killed Hawke-Petit.
But Ullmann noted that Hayes told police that things "got out of control," and that Hayes' co-defendant, 30-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky, said no one was supposed to get hurt.
The crime started out as a robbery but veered into a homicide and ended with the house being burned to destroy evidence, Ullmann said. Authorities say the fire killed the children.
"I hope I don't sound callous or indifferent in describing what happened. These are the chilling facts of the case," Ullmann told jurors.
State's Attorney Michael Dearington told jurors they would hear "indescribable events in the testimony," but asked them to render a fair decision.
Dr. Petit and other family members attended the trial's first day.
"It has been a very painful process to get to this day," his sister, Hanna Chapman, told reporters after the session. "And although the pain will never end we think of Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela every second of every day."
Hayes and Komisarjevsky, who is awaiting trial, have tried to blame each other for escalating the crime. Both defendants had offered to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences, but prosecutors pushed for death penalty trials, defense attorneys have said.
Authorities say a chance encounter at a local supermarket led to the July 2007 home invasion.
Komisarjevsky spotted Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters at the store and followed them home, then returned later with Hayes, authorities said.
Authorities say Hayes and Komisarjevsky, two paroled burglars, broke into the house, tied up Dr. Petit and beat him, before taking his family hostage and forcing his wife to withdraw money from a bank.
Hayes is accused of sexually assaulting and strangling Hawke-Petit. Komisarjevsky is charged with sexually assaulting 11-year-old Michaela. The two then allegedly tied the girl and her sister, 17-year-old Hayley, to their beds, poured gasoline on and around them and set the house on fire.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky fled the burning home in the family's car, but were caught a short time later when they rammed several police cruisers, authorities said. Hayes was wearing Hayley's high school cap, police say.
(This version CORRECTS spelling of Makhzangi.)