NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Attorneys for a man convicted of a deadly home invasion tried Monday to convince a jury to spare him the death penalty by portraying him as a clumsy thief driven by a powerful drug addiction and a more calculating co-defendant whom one witness compared to the devil.
The penalty phase of the trial of Steven Hayes began in New Haven Superior Court nearly two weeks after Hayes was convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, at their home in Cheshire in 2007. Jurors are weighing whether Hayes should be executed or get a life sentence.
Hayes' public defender, Patrick Culligan, said in his opening statement that he'll show Hayes had a drug addiction that controlled his life. He noted that Hayes spent 25 years in prison.
"That's because many of his life choices revolved around his desire and need to satisfy and fuel his drug addiction," Culligan said.
Culligan said he would present evidence of co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky's role in planning and carrying out the home invasion, including what Komisarjevsky told the author of a book who interviewed him in prison. Komisarjevsky will be tried next year.
Prosecutors have objected to efforts by Hayes' attorneys to introduce Komisarjevsky's diaries and letters.
Hayes' former boss testified Monday he was a good worker at her restaurant, but she was frightened by Komisarjevsky.
Christiane Gehami said Hayes worked at her West Hartford restaurant and did handyman work. When he brought Komisarjevsky in to talk about a carpentry job, "I just stopped dead in my tracks. I thought I was looking at the devil," she said. "My skin crawled."
She said she told the men she didn't need the work done right away.
When a prosecutor asked on cross-examination what she meant, Gehami said Komisarjevsky had "dead eyes. Completely dead eyes."
Hayes' attorneys tried to humanize him and portray him as a proud father and longtime nonviolent criminal who was trying to pick up the pieces of his life as he got out of prison shortly before the crime. Several witnesses testified that they were shocked when they learned that Hayes was accused of the crime.
Culligan urged jurors to keep an open mind and said he would present witnesses to show that Hayes, who became addicted to drugs as a teenager, "could be a likable person."
Gehami said Hayes showed a good sense of humor when he worked for her and once tried to intervene to protect her after she got into a verbal argument with another worker.
The defense's first witness, D'Arcy Lovetere, a former court employee and investigator from Hayes' hometown, said Hayes had a nonviolent criminal past and was "a follower." She also called him a "klutz."
"He wasn't the best criminal in the world," Lovetere said. "He would do things that were really foolish that you knew he'd get caught."
Hayes was remorseful and desperately wanted help to overcome his addiction to crack cocaine, Lovetere said.
But under cross-examination, Lovetere said she did not know details of Hayes' burglary convictions and whether he was a leader or follower in those cases.
Prosecutors also questioned a defense witness about Hayes' writings in a journal as part of his drug treatment program while he was at a halfway house a year before the home invasion.
"For me I realize unresolved anger controls me," Hayes wrote, according to testimony. "It haunts me day and night."
The prosecution rested its case Monday after calling a court clerk to describe Hayes' long record of burglary convictions. Prosecutor Michael Dearington said the jurors have already heard the gruesome nature of the attacks.
Authorities said Hayes and Komisarjevsky broke into the house, beat Dr. William Petit, and forced his wife to withdraw money from a bank before Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled her. Their daughters were tied to their beds before the house was set ablaze.
The crime drew comparisons to "In Cold Blood," Truman Capote's chilling book about the 1959 murders of a Kansas family, and prompted more Cheshire residents to get guns. It also led to tougher laws for repeat offenders and home invasions, and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell cited the case when she vetoed a bill that would have abolished the death penalty.
Komisarjevsky spotted the mother and her two daughters at a supermarket, followed them to their home, then returned later with Hayes, according to authorities. The men were caught fleeing the scene, they said.
Hayes' lawyers conceded most of the evidence on the trial's first day. But they blamed Komisarjevsky for escalating the violence at every critical point, starting with William Petit's beating. Prosecutors rejected that argument, saying they both were equally responsible for the crime.
Jurors heard eight days of gruesome testimony, saw photos of the victims, charred beds, rope, ripped clothing and ransacked rooms. They deliberated for five hours over two days.
Hayes was convicted of six capital felony charges, three murder counts and two charges of sexually assaulting Hawke-Petit. The capital offenses were for killing two or more people, the killing of a person under 16, murder in the course of a sexual assault and three counts of intentionally causing a death during a kidnapping.