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Trial in slayings of doctor's wife, daughters, set to begin Monday

By Grace Wong, In Session
Dr. William Petit, shown with wife Jennifer Hawke-Petit and daughters, Michaela and Hayley, was the only survivor.
Dr. William Petit, shown with wife Jennifer Hawke-Petit and daughters, Michaela and Hayley, was the only survivor.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Steven Hayes is one of two accused of killing a woman and her two daughters
  • The woman's husband, who was beaten but survived, wants the death penalty
  • The attorneys have asked to make opening statements, which are not automatic in the state
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New Haven, Connecticut (CNN) -- After months of jury selection and delays caused by the defendant's alleged suicide attempt, the triple murder case against Steven Hayes, one of two accused in the killing of a Connecticut physician's family, is set to begin Monday.

Hayes, 47, and his co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, 30, are charged with capital murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, burglary, and arson in an alleged crime spree that resulted in the deaths of a doctor's wife and two daughters.

The two paroled felons are accused of breaking into the doctor's home in the early morning hours of July 23, 2007, and terrorizing the family for hours before setting fire to the house.

"The case against Hayes appears strong. The real battle should be in the penalty phase," said Christopher Morano, who was part of the team that prosecuted Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, and is now a Connecticut-based defense attorney.

"I expect the prosecution will present their evidence methodically, they'll work to protect their case from any appellate errors and ignore the media and the behind-the-scenes political battle over the death penalty."

Lawyers involved in the case are barred from talking to the media by a court-imposed gag order, so trial strategy and details of the crime have been kept under tight wraps. However those details could be made public during opening statements, as lawyers on both sides have moved to make them. While openings are routine in most states and typically serve as a road map to the evidence, they are not the norm in Connecticut, Morano said.

"Opening statements are usually up to the discretion of the judge," he said.

Steven Hayes, 47, and another ex-con allegedly terrorized and killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters.
Steven Hayes, 47, and another ex-con allegedly terrorized and killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters.

Connecticut prosecutors usually start their cases with a witness who will set the scene. In this case that could be Dr. William Petit, the only survivor of the home invasion. Petit was beaten and bound during the attack.

According to local newspaper accounts, he has been a vocal advocate for the death penalty in his quest for justice. His comments at one point drew protests from Hayes' attorney, Thomas Ullmann, who complained to the court that Petit was trying to influence potential jurors.

For legal reasons, Komisarjevsky will be tried separately.

He and Hayes could face lethal injection if they are convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters. Hayes also is accused of raping and strangling Hawke-Petit and prosecutors have charged Komisarjevsky with sexually assaulting Petit's 11-year-old daughter.

Momentum to repeal Connecticut's death penalty hit a snag last year when the state's Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell, vetoed an abolition bill passed by the State's House and Senate.

Twelve jurors and seven alternates have been selected to hear the case against Hayes, which is expected to take up to three months.