Testimony is scheduled to resume Wednesday in the trial of a man accused of killing the wife and daughters of a Connecticut doctor and setting their home ablaze in a 2007 home invasion.
Steven Hayes is charged with capital murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, burglary and arson in the July 2007 deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley Petit, 17, and Michaela Petit, 11. Hayes and co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky - who will be tried separately - also are accused of beating and tying up Dr. William Petit and leaving him in the basement while they allegedly attacked his wife and daughters and ransacked the home before setting it on fire.
Hayes, who has pleaded not guilty, faces the death penalty. Public defender Thomas Ullman conceded in the defense opening statement that Hayes killed Hawke-Petit, but said that otherwise, much of what happened is still unclear.
“No one was supposed to be hurt,” he said. “What is known is that Steven Hayes kills and assaults Mrs. Petit… we concede much, but not all.”
The capital murder trial was interrupted Thursday because of concerns over Hayes' health. The trial was further delayed when presiding Superior Court Judge Jon Blue fell ill Sunday and had to be hospitalized. Blue was released from the hospital Monday and is expected to return to the trial Wednesday.
The brutal deaths startled the affluent Connecticut suburb of Cheshire, where the family was well known and highly respected. William Petit was a prominent endocrinologist. His wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, was a pediatric nurse who did not let multiple sclerosis keep her from working or raising a family. Hayley had just graduated from Miss Porter's School, a prestigious private school that counts Gloria Vanderbilt and Jackie Kennedy among its alumna. Inspired by her mother’s condition, she had formed a walk team called "Hayley’s Hope" to raise money for M.S. research. With Hayley bound for college in the fall, her younger sister, Michaela, was going to take over with her own team called “Michaela’s Miracles.”
The deaths also led to a public outcry for Connecticut to strengthen laws against repeat offenders when it was learned that the suspects were multiple felons who met in a halfway house while on parole. Citing the Cheshire case, Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a resolution that would have eliminated the death penalty in the state earlier .
Since testimony began last Monday, the five men and seven women on the jury have heard from 14 prosecution witnesses, among them, William Petit, the sole survivor of the attack, to reconstruct the timeline of events. Several jurors were moved to tears when viewing crime scene photos of the victims' bodies. Hawke-Petit, 48, was strangled, while Hayley and Michaela died of smoke inhalation after their captors set their home ablaze.
Dr. Petit testified that he spent the evening before the attack with his family eating dinner and reading the newspaper while the others watched "Army Wives" in the family room. He awoke around 3:00 in the morning to find blood running down his face and two men standing over the couch.
Birds were singing when they brought him to the basement and left him there tied to a pole, with his ankles and wrists bound, he testified. Petit said that for the most part "it was very quiet" while he was bound in the basement. At one point he heard "three loud noises, like someone was throwing 20- or 30-pound sacks on the living room floor."
With his ankles still tied together, Petit said he managed to make it up the stairs and out of the home, and roll over to the home of his neighbor, who immediately called 911.
During Petit's captivity, Hayes allegedly drove his wife to the bank to withdraw $15,000. Jurors saw bank surveillance video of Hawke-Petit's final moments, explaining her predicament to the teller.
The teller testified Monday that she notified her manager after Hawke-Petit said she needed the money "because she and her family were being held hostage at her house."
The bank manager called 911 at 9:21 a.m. and the first unit arrived at the home around 9:30. The officers testified they were instructed to not enter the home, so they instead secured the street and awaited further instruction. By 9:58 a.m., the house was on fire and the suspects had left the home in the family’s Chrysler Pacifica. Sometime before their departure, authorities believe Hawke-Petit and her daughters were assaulted and left to die.
The two suspects were trying to escape in the Petits' vehicle when they collided with two police cars and were forced to a stop, Detective Joseph Vitello testified. Inside the car, police found items allegedly taken from the home, including an iPod station, two pearl necklaces belonging to his wife and youngest daughter and a Louisville slugger from the garage.
The trial will pick up tomorrow with the testimony of Connecticut State Police Sergeant Karen Gabianelli, who has been introducing photographs of the Petit home.
– In Session's Michael Christian contributed to this report.