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Man convicted of capital murder in Connecticut home invasion case

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Petit dad: My family is still gone
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Victim's sister says prison doesn't seem an adequate punishment
  • Steven Hayes is convicted of capital murder, could face the death penalty
  • "My family is still gone," Dr. William Petit says
  • The penalty phase is scheduled to begin October 18

(CNN) -- After deliberating for about four hours over two days, a jury Tuesday convicted a 47-year-old man of capital murder in the deaths of three members of a Connecticut family in a 2007 home invasion.

Steven Hayes was convicted on 16 of the 17 charges against him in connection with the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, including nine counts of murder and capital murder and four counts of kidnapping. The jurors acquitted him of an arson charge in the burning of the family's home.

As the verdicts were read, Hayes stood at the defense table, looking down. Some members of the Petit family embraced, while others seemed close to tears.

The killings took place in the New Haven suburb of Cheshire early on July 23, 2007. The home of Dr. William Petit, his wife, Hawke-Petit, and their two daughters was invaded in the middle of the night by Hayes and co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky, prosecutors say. Komisarjevsky will be tried separately.

"There is some relief, but my family is still gone," Petit told reporters after the verdict. "It doesn't bring them back. It doesn't bring back the home that we had."

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Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Hayes. At the penalty phase, jurors will determine whether the mitigating evidence the defense is expected to present will outweigh the aggravating factors in favor of the death penalty. Judge Jon Blue set the penalty phase to begin October 18.

After the verdict, Cindy Hawke-Renn, Hawke-Petit's sister, said prison hardly seemed like a strict enough punishment.

"I was never a proponent of the death penalty in the past, but I say that I've never known evil like this before either," she told HLN's "Prime News."

Jurors deliberated about two hours on Monday. Before they received the case, prosecutor Michael Dearington laid out an elaborate timeline of events. "I doubt you could have comprehended how horrendous this evidence would be," he told jurors.

During the trial, Jeremiah Krob, a Connecticut prison officer, testified he overheard Hayes confess to another inmate that he killed Hawke-Petit. Hayes also reportedly wondered out loud whether Petit might have been in cahoots with his co-defendant, Komisarjevsky, because Petit had escaped.

Hayes said that he had tied the father in the basement of the home and that he doubted he could have gotten loose without help from Komisarjevsky, Krob testified.

Outside the courthouse, Petit told reporters: "I really can't dignify that insinuation with a response. I think the evidence put on by the prosecution speaks for itself."

Connecticut State Police Detective Anthony Buglione, who interviewed Hayes after the crime, has testified the duo beat Petit bloody and left him in the basement.

According to the testimony, the two men then went upstairs and found Hawke-Petit and 11-year-old Michaela Petit asleep in the master bedroom. 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, Hayes told Buglione.

They then found 17-year-old Hayley Petit in her room and did the same, he said.

After finding evidence of a bank account containing $20,000 to $30,000, they decided to have the mother go to the bank in the morning and withdraw money from her account, Buglione testified.

Hayes is accused of taking Hawke-Petit to the bank while Komisarjevsky allegedly stayed behind. When Hayes and Hawke-Petit returned with the money, the two men allegedly set the home on fire and fled.

Inside the home, authorities said, Hawke-Petit, 48, was found raped and strangled. Her two daughters, one of whom had been sexually assaulted, died of smoke inhalation. Petit, the sole survivor, escaped to a neighbor's home.

Public defender Thomas Ullmann conceded in the defense's opening statement that Hayes killed Hawke-Petit. But otherwise, he said, 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."

In Friday's closing arguments, Ullmann placed much of the blame on Hayes' alleged accomplice, Komisarjevsky, whom he called the mastermind of the home invasion.

"Just because the state has brought 17 charges doesn't mean he's guilty of all of them," Ullmann said of Hayes, though he conceded he couldn't explain why his client didn't leave the scene once things began to escalate.

But, he said, "Even in flight, Joshua Komisarjevsky was in control."

Dearington dismissed those statements in his rebuttal, saying Hayes "was part of that whole plan to destroy this family, to take their money and to burn that house down."

In a police interview, Hayes said that his life "sucked" and that he had "no money, no car, and not enough to eat."

"Why didn't he leave? He didn't leave because of his desire for money," Dearington said.

In Session's Michael Christian and Swetha Iyengar contributed to this report.

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