Lawyers challenge survivor of Conn. home invasion

Relatives of a woman and two girls killed in a 2007 home invasion have described one of the accused as "pure evil" and an "animal" in an effort to ensure his execution, jeopardizing the defendant's right to a fair trial, defense attorneys said in court papers unsealed Monday.

Despite the comments by Dr. William Petit and other relatives, Joshua Komisarjevsky is not "pure evil," his attorneys wrote.

"He has displayed remorse, and his execution would not advance the ends of justice, as that concept is defined in most of the civilized world," they wrote.

The attorneys say Komisarjevsky was abused as a child and is a "damaged human being" who has "positive, redeeming attributes, which exist despite mental disorder and the harm done by years of trauma and abuse."

Authorities say Komisarjevsky and co-defendant Steven Hayes killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, in their Cheshire home in 2007. William Petit was beaten with a baseball bat but survived.

Hawke-Petit was strangled. The girls were tied to their beds, with gasoline poured on or around them, before the house was set on fire, leading to their deaths from smoke inhalation.

Hayes was convicted of sexually assaulting and strangling Hawke-Petit and of killing the girls. He was sentenced to death last year.

A gag order has been imposed, but Komisarjevksy's attorneys asked the court to unseal their statement. It comes as Komisarjevsky heads to trial next month.

Both men have blamed each other for escalating the crime, but prosecutors say both are equally responsible. Each had offered to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences, but prosecutors pressed for the death penalty for both men.

"Even now, with several years of hate and contempt directed at him and anyone close to him, all Josh desires in terms of his case is a sentence of incarceration for the remainder of his natural life in a maximum-security prison, the best he can hope for notwithstanding the lack of intent to cause or bring about the deaths of the victims in this case," his lawyers wrote.

They also said Petit and his relatives have invoked Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi, even though both were opponents of the death penalty.

Messages were left Monday with Petit's attorney and spokeswoman.

Komisarjevsky's attorneys also wrote that "there are reasons" why he was in the Petit house that night which will soon be made public.