Judge denies limiting testimony in home invasion

Lawyers for a Connecticut man heading to trial for a 2007 home invasion that left a mother and her two daughters dead tried unsuccessfully Friday to prevent the girl's father from testifying about the victims' charitable and church activities, final supper and funerals.

New Haven Superior Court Judge Jon Blue denied the request by Joshua Komisarjevsky, whose trial starts Monday. Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes were charged with killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters.

Hayes is on death row after he was convicted last year of raping and strangling Hawke-Petit and killing the girls, who were tied to their beds and died of smoke inhalation after the house was doused in gasoline and set on fire. Dr. William Petit, the girls' father and Hawke-Petit's husband, was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up, but managed to escape to a neighbor's home to get help.

Komisarjevsky's attorneys argued that Petit's testimony should be limited to the crime and that he shouldn't be allowed to testify about his family's charities and other activities, as he did during Hayes' trial. They say it would amount to a victim-impact statement to the jury, which is prohibited by state law.

"It's all playing on the jury's emotions," said Komisarjevsky attorney Todd Bussert.

Bussert objected to testimony that Petit was president of the Hartford County Medical Association, that his wife was a nurse and about her medical history of multiple sclerosis. He also objected to Petit testifying about funerals for his wife and daughters, family vacations, graduation parties and his youngest daughter's affinity for cooking.

Bussert objected to Petit's earlier testimony about the safeness of his neighborhood in Cheshire, an affluent suburb of New Haven. He said that played into socio-economic and race issues, "which is this idea that bad things shouldn't happen to white suburbs." The defendants are white, as were the victims.

Prosecutor Michael Dearington said Petit's testimony was typical of many cases and is relevant for the jury to assess his credibility and reliability. He said the family's final activities, such as going to a grocery store where Komisarjevsky spotted them, are relevant.

"It all ties in," Dearington said. "It's not just put on as counsel suggests to evoke the emotions of the jury."

Blue said most of the testimony the defense objected to is admissible. The judge denied the motion without prejudice, saying the defense has the right to object to Petit's testimony and to cross-examine him.

Blue also denied a request to select a new jury and have the trial moved, saying he was confident the jurors would base their decision on the evidence and his instructions.