NEW HAVEN, Conn. – William Petit woke early on his couch the morning of July 23, 2007, feeling terrific pain and the sensation that blood was running down his face. He saw two people standing nearby and heard one tell the other who was holding a gun to shoot if Petit moved.
Petit, the sole survivor of a home invasion in which his wife and two daughters were killed and their house set on fire, testified Tuesday in New Haven Superior Court on the second day of the trial of Steven Hayes.
Hayes and another man, Joshua Komisarjevsky, are charged with murder, sexual assault and other crimes in the killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, at their Cheshire home. Both defendants face the possibility of the death penalty if convicted. Komisarjevsky is awaiting trial.
In Petit's testimony — his first public comments about the home invasion — he described how the previous day, an ordinary Sunday of golf with his father and dinner with his wife and children, soon became a night of terror.
It was at the supermarket where Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters bought the food for the Sunday dinner that led to the chance encounter and violence that followed, prosecutors say. Komisarjevsky spotted the mother and her two daughters and followed them home, then returned later with Hayes, authorities say.
Responding to detailed questions by prosecutor Michael Dearington, Petit offered chilling testimony in an even, matter-of-fact style.
"If he moves, put two bullets in him," Petit recalled one of the assailants saying.
Petit, speaking in front of a packed courtroom of about 100 spectators, said he was beaten with a baseball bat and his wrists and ankles were bound. At one point, the assailants took him to his basement and tied him to a post.
Scattered around him were pillows and a quilt given to one of his daughters as a graduation gift.
He said he grew more desperate when he heard one of the assailants upstairs say: "Don't worry. It's going to be over in a couple of minutes."
"It's now or never," Petit said of his thoughts at the time. "In my mind at that moment I thought they were going to shoot all of us."
Petit said he did not know the fate of his wife and daughters but said he heard his wife in the kitchen tell one of the attackers she needed to change clothes and get a checkbook. She soon went to a local bank early Monday and withdrew $15,000 demanded by Hayes and Komisarjevsky, prosecutors say.
Petit said he freed his hands but not his ankles, so he hopped up the stairs but fell.
"I felt my heart was going to explode out of my chest," he said.
He could not walk or run so he crawled, but that was inefficient, he said, as he grew weaker because of what doctors said later was his loss of as much as seven pints of blood. Petit said he then rolled on the ground to a neighbor's house, pounded on his garage door and got assistance.
A bank teller testified Monday that Jennifer Hawke-Petit arrived at the bank to withdraw $15,000 after informing the teller that her family was being held hostage. The bank called police, who arrived shortly after Petit sought help from his neighbor, he said.
Petit said he was immediately taken to a hospital, not knowing the fate of his wife and daughters.
"They threw me on a gurney and I was gone," he said.
The next time he left the hospital, four days later, was to attend the funerals of his wife and daughters.