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Detective: Home invasion suspect was 'desperate for money'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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New testimony in home invasion case
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Detective testifies Hayes was "desperate for money"
  • Hayes told police the suspects didn't find as much money as they hoped
  • Trial in slayings of three Connecticut
  • Judge tells court he had tests but "passed with flying colors"

New Haven, Connecticut (CNN) -- The trial of a man accused of killing three members of a Connecticut family in a 2007 home invasion will continue Thursday with testimony from the state's chief medical examiner.

On Wednesday, the officer who interviewed Steven Hayes -- who 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 -- testified that Hayes said he was "desperate for money."

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 attacked Hawke-Petit and Michaela Petit, ransacked the home and set it afire.

Hayes, who has pleaded not guilty, could face the death penalty if convicted. Public defender Thomas Ullmann conceded in the defense's opening statement that Hayes killed Hawke-Petit but said that, otherwise, much of what happened is 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."

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Connecticut State Police Det. Anthony Buglione testified that he was assigned to interview Hayes after the incident and noted "a strong odor of gasoline emanating from Mr. Hayes' body."

"There was no emotion," Buglione testified. "I remember him being very flat, pretty quiet."

Hayes told the detective that he and Komisarjevsky met in a halfway house while both were on parole about a year and a half earlier and the two attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings together and became friends, according to Buglione's report. Buglione said Hayes told him "that lately life sucked and he was on a downhill slide. He said that he had no money, no car and not enough food to eat."

Hayes said he had been working as a laborer in Stamford, Connecticut, until his mother told him he could no longer use her car to get to the job, the report says. And she had given him until the end of the week to move out of her house, it says.

"He had called Josh and told him he was desperate for money," the detective testified. "Josh asked him how serious he was, and Mr. Hayes said he was very serious." The two devised a plan to "break into a house, tie some people up, grab some money and get out as fast as they could," Buglione said. They purchased a BB gun, he said, "to just scare some people."

On July 23, fortified with a beer and a shot from a visit to a bar, the two men parked Komisarjevsky's mother's van, covered their faces with masks and "walked up to the back of a house" after 2 a.m., the report says.

Hayes recounted that the two saw a man asleep on the rear porch; Komisarjevsky entered the home through an unlocked basement door, walked to the porch and struck the man in the head four to five times with a baseball bat, Buglione said. The two tied up the man with rope they found in the basement, Buglione said.

"They began to search for money but didn't find as much as they thought there should be," Buglione said. The two men then went upstairs and found Hawke-Petit and Michaela asleep in the master bedroom, he said. After tying Hawke-Petit to her bed, they led the girl to her room, tied her to her bed and put a pillowcase over her head, he said. They then found Hayley Petit in her room and did the same, he said.

After finding a Bank of America account that contained $20,000 to $30,000, they decided to wait until morning and have the mother go to the bank and withdraw money from her account, Buglione says Hayes told him.

"Hayes said that they spent the rest of the night drinking beer from the family refrigerator," the report says.

At one point Hayes drove to a gas station to fill up some gallon jugs with gasoline, Buglione testified Hayes told him.

While Hawke-Petit and Hayes were at the bank, Komisarjevsky was to put the others in one of the family's cars and burn down the house to destroy evidence, Buglione said.

Hayes said he drove Hawke-Petit to the bank and she withdrew $15,000, the report says. Jurors saw bank surveillance video of Hawke-Petit 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."

When they returned to the house, Komisarjevsky tied up Hawke-Petit, Buglione said, recounting what Hayes told him. Hayes also said that Komisarjevsky told him he had assaulted Michaela, according to Buglione.

"Hayes said that Josh told him that he had to have sex with the mother to square things up," the report says. Hayes said he then raped the mother, it says.

After that, Hayes told police, "things began to get out of control," Buglione said. Hayes recounted smelling gas and said Komisarjevsky yelled that Petit had escaped and they needed to get out of the house.

The two men grabbed the cash, the masks and a bag containing jewelry, and jumped into the family's Chrysler Pacifica and drove off, it says. Buglione said Hayes said nothing about a fire being set.

By this time, police had been alerted. After Hawke-Petit had left the bank, the manager called 911 at 9:21 a.m., and the first unit arrived at the home about 9:30 a.m.

The officers testified that 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 already departed in the family's Pacifica.

They didn't get far. The suspects collided with two police cars and were forced to a stop, Det. Joseph Vitello testified. Inside the car, police found items allegedly taken from the home, including an iPod station, pearl necklaces belonging to Hawke-Petit and Michaela, and a Louisville slugger baseball bat from the garage.

Inside the home, Hawke-Petit, 48, was found strangled, while Hayley and Michaela died of smoke inhalation.

William Petit, the sole survivor of the attack, and a number of the victims' relatives left the courtroom before testimony from Dr. Wayne Carver, Connecticut's chief medical examiner, who warned jurors, "You'll be seeing some very disturbing photos."

Carver will continue his testimony Thursday, according to CNN affiliate WTNH.

In his testimony, Petit reconstructed the timeline of events. He testified that he had 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 a.m. to find blood running down his face and two men standing over the couch.

Birds were singing when the men took him to the basement, tied him to a pole -- his wrists and ankles bound -- and left him there, he testified. Petit said that, 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 out of the home and to the home of his neighbor, who called 911.

The trial was interrupted last Thursday because of concerns over Hayes' health.

It was further delayed when presiding Superior Court Judge Jon Blue fell ill Sunday and was hospitalized. Blue was released from the hospital Monday and returned to court Wednesday and told the court he had passed his medical tests "with flying colors."

The deaths shocked the affluent Connecticut suburb of Cheshire, where Petit is a prominent endocrinologist. His wife 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 alumnae.

The deaths also led to a public outcry for Connecticut to strengthen its laws against repeat offenders when it was learned that the suspects had been convicted of multiple felonies. Citing the Cheshire case, Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a resolution that would have eliminated the death penalty in the state.

In Session's Michael Christian and Sunny Hostin contributed to this report.