Skip to main content

The path that led to 8 terrifying hours for Connecticut family

By Mallory Simon, CNN
Click to play
Guilty verdict in home invasion trial
  • Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky accused in home invasion resulting in three deaths
  • Men crossed paths in drug rehab, joined up for Connecticut crime, authorities say
  • Hayes found guilty on 16 out of 17 counts, including nine counts of murder and capital murder
  • Two have diverging accounts of what happened; Komisarjevsky will be tried separately

(CNN) -- Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky first crossed paths at a Hartford, Connecticut, drug treatment center in the summer of 2006, according to police.

Both men, career criminals, had been in and out of jail for similar non-violent crimes. Twice they had overlapping stays at the same halfway house or drug center, and the two attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings together and became friends, according to a detective's report.

They shared similar interests -- often the downfall that led them into the criminal justice system -- but nobody knew at the time that their friendship would result in what police and prosecutors say was one of the most brutal crimes in memory in the prosperous town of Cheshire, Connecticut.

Hayes' parole records show that he has a history of abusing drugs and having disciplinary problems in jail. For Hayes, 47, crack cocaine was the catalyst for a dramatic relapse after an attempt at rehabilitation. His drug use, according to corrections documents, led to an 11-day crime spree of burglaries and crack binges.

Komisarjevsky's records and his own accounts during parole hearings show he also had a weakness for drugs. The 30-year-old said he supported his crystal meth and cocaine habit, which began at age 19, by breaking into upscale homes to steal money and electronics, according to a September 2004 corrections report.

How often the two may have spoken during their rehab stints, much less what they said to each other, is impossible to know. But police allege their odd-couple friendship allegedly set in motion events that ended with them facing the death penalty in the state's most high profile crime since Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's 2002 murder trial.

Hayes was found guilty Tuesday on 16 out of 17 counts, including nine counts of murder and capital murder, and four counts of kidnapping. The lone not-guilty verdict came on a count of arson.

Komisarjevsky will be tried separately. Prosecutors and defense attorneys cannot comment on the case because they are under a court's gag order, but at their initial arraignment, both men pleaded not guilty.

Court documents paint a picture of every suburban family's worst nightmare: A home invasion ending in multiple rapes, a house on fire, two girls and their mother dead inside, and their father, blood gushing from a head wound, breaking free of his restraints and stumbling out of the basement.

The deaths shocked the affluent Connecticut suburb of Cheshire, where Dr. William Petit is a prominent endocrinologist. Stories about the family have dominated the media. His wife, 48-year-old Jennifer Hawke-Petit, was a pediatric nurse who did not let multiple sclerosis keep her from working or raising a family. Hayley, 17, was headed to Dartmouth after graduating from Miss Porter's School, a prestigious private school that counts Gloria Vanderbilt and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis among its alumnae. Michaela Petit, 11, attended Chase Collegiate School and was actively involved in the school and fundraising efforts for multiple sclerosis.

Both Hayes and Komisarjevsky came under scrutiny as police, the media and community searched for a motive and details about what happened inside the white frame house on Sorghum Mill Drive?

Petit family's night of terror

Police see the crime in black and white: It began when Hayes and Komisarjevsky spotted Hawke-Petit and her daughters at a grocery store and followed them home.

Video: Petit dad: My family is still gone
Video: Analyzing the murder verdict
Video: Hayes guilty of Petit murders
Video: Family killed: What happened?

On July 23, fortified with a beer and a shot from a local bar, the pair parked the van of Komisarjevsky's mother, covered their faces with masks and walked up to the back of the Petits' house at 2 a.m., according to a report by Connecticut State Police Detective Anthony Buglione.

Petit was asleep on the back porch. The doctor testified at the trial that he had spent the evening with his family eating dinner and reading the newspaper while the others watched "Army Wives" in the family room.

Komisarjevsky entered through an unlocked basement door, walked to the porch and struck Petit on the head four to five times with a baseball bat, Buglione said.

Petit said he awoke around 3 a.m. Blood streamed down his face. Two men stood over the couch. Birds were singing when they took him to the basement, tied him to a pole with his wrists and ankles bound and left him there, he testified. At one point, Petit said, he heard "three loud noises, like someone was throwing 20- or 30-pound sacks on the living room floor."

With Petit helpless in the basement, "They began to search for money but didn't find as much as they thought there should be," Buglione said.

The intruders 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 in her room and did the same, Buglione said.

After finding records of a Bank of America account that contained $20,000 to $30,000, Hayes told Buglione that the men decided to wait until morning and take the mother to the bank to withdraw cash.

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

Buglione later testified that Hayes drove to a gas station to fill up some gallon jugs with gasoline. According to the pair's plan, Komisarjevsky was to put the others in one of the family's cars and burn down the house to destroy evidence while Hawke-Petit and Hayes were at the bank, he added.

Hayes forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw $15,000 at about 9 a.m., police said. Hawke-Petit alerted a clerk that her family was being held hostage, and the clerk called police.

Police say Hawke-Petit and her daughter Michaela were sexually assaulted back at the house. That's also where Hawke-Petit was strangled. The areas around the daughters' beds were doused in gasoline. As the Petit home went up in flames, police say, Hayes and Komisarjevsky took the family's sport utility vehicle and tried to escape.

The pair encountered a police blockade, smashing the family's SUV into two police cruisers. Hayes and Komisarjevsky were taken into custody shortly after 10 a.m.

A change in accounts

Neither of the men, whose mug shots were splashed across papers around the country after their arrests, have records as violent criminals. Early on, comparisons were made between the case and Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood."

But the story line in this case is far more tangled. While Hayes and Komisarjevsky share many things, they don't share the same version of what happened before and during the nearly eight-hour ordeal inside the Petit family home.

At their first court appearance, the two stood side by side in orange jumpsuits and bulletproof vests in a packed New Haven courtroom. But their accounts began to diverge when they asked to be tried separately for the crime.

Hayes' public defender, Thomas Ullmann, conceded in his opening statement that Hayes killed Hawke-Petit but said beyond that, 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."

Among the points most disputed: the origins of the crime and who did what.

Hayes said it all began in 2007 when he found himself in financial trouble. His mother cut him off, meaning he had no money or a car to get to his job as a laborer in neighboring Stamford. He was given until the end of the week to move out. Desperate, he turned to Komisarjevsky, Hayes told Buglione.

"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."

Hayes' attorney, Ullmann, said it was Komisarjevsky's "unilateral decision" to stray from the original plan.

The plan veered off course when Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted one of the girls while Hayes was with their mother at the bank, Ullman said.

Komisarjevsky's version of events has had a very public airing: "In the Middle of the Night," a book by Brian McDonald. The book is based on McDonald's jailhouse interviews with Komisarjevsky.

The book, published before the trial, has stirred emotions in the community and raised concerns that the jury might be prejudiced by it.

According to the book, Komisarjevsky said Hayes raised the stakes -- from a simple burglary to an armed home invasion. And, Komisarjevsky told McDonald, that Hayes had an equal role in tying up the girls. Komisarjevsky points to Hayes' laughter while he says they were committing the crimes and in escaping the home with a souvenir.

"In a full sprint Joshua is first out of the house. Next comes Steven Hayes, screaming in a high-pitched insane laugh," McDonald wrote. "On his head is Hayley's gray-and-green school hat."

In Session's Swetha Iyengar contributed to this report.