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Jurors: Man should die for deadly Connecticut home invasion

From Michael Christian, In Session
Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were killed in the home invasion.
Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were killed in the home invasion.
  • NEW: Sole survivor of attack calls verdict "appropriate and just"
  • NEW: Formal sentencing is set for December 2
  • Verdict reached on fourth day of deliberations
  • Jurors found death was appropriate on every count

New Haven, Connecticut (CNN) -- A man convicted of killing three members of a Connecticut family in a brutal 2007 home invasion should die for the crime, jurors decided Monday after nearly 18 hours of deliberation.

Steven Hayes, 47, was convicted last month of 16 of the 17 charges against him, including nine counts of murder and capital murder and four counts of kidnapping. Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley Petit and 11-year-old Michaela Petit, died in the attack.

Prosecutors alleged that Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky invaded the Petit home in Cheshire, Connecticut, on July 23, 2007, beat Dr. William Petit, raped and strangled his wife, molested one of the daughters and set the house on fire before attempting to flee. Hayes also forced Jennifer Hawke-Petit to go to a bank to withdraw money from a bank account.

Jurors entering the courtroom Monday were somber and mostly looked at members of the Petit family, not at Hayes. As the clerk read the verdicts, they stayed focused on the clerk. Hayes stared straight ahead. The Petit family at first was stoic, but William Petit, the sole survivor, was seen dabbing at his eyes.

The jury, comprised of five men and seven women, had just begun their fourth day of deliberations when they signaled they had reached a verdict. The panel determined on each count that death is the appropriate punishment for Hayes.

Outside court, Petit called the decision "appropriate and just."

"I thank the jury for doing their job," he said, adding later "I think in a civilized society people need to be held responsible for their actions ... especially when they're viciously violent."

Petit grew emotional when asked his reaction upon hearing the verdict.

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"I was really crying for loss," he said, pausing briefly to regain composure. "... Probably many of you have kids. Michaela was an 11-year-old girl -- tortured and killed in her own bedroom, surrounded by stuffed animals. And Hayley had a great future and was a strong and tremendous person."

He also lamented the loss left by wife Jennifer, who helped out at children's hospitals in the region.

"I was really thinking of the tremendous loss," he said, calling it "a huge void in my life and in our family and friends' lives."

Hayes did not testify during the trial. His defense attorney, Tom Ullmann, told jurors his client would suffer more if given a life sentence.

"Life in prison without the possibility of release is the harshest penalty," he said. "It is a fate worse than death."

Hayes, he said, "isn't a rabid dog that needs to be put to death. He has lost 80 pounds. He will never have a private bath. He goes to the bathroom in public. He will never eat a dinner that he makes, but one that they provide. He has a rec cage for an hour a day. Like an animal at the zoo."

He told jurors to put Hayes to death "if you want to end his misery."

Formal sentencing is set for December 2.

The defense presented testimony that Hayes had attempted suicide several times and had waged a longtime struggle with substance abuse. But, prosecutor Michael Dearington told jurors, "Drugs don't necessarily lead to violent crimes" and that drugs were no excuse.

Although Komisarjevsky is set to be tried later, his writings -- which provided graphic descriptions of the incident -- also played a role in the penalty phase of Hayes' trial.

"I am what I am; I make no excuses," Komisarjevsky wrote. "I'm a criminal with a criminal mind."

But he also appeared to express remorse, at one point writing, "Michaela, Haley and Jennifer, forgive me; I am damned. ... My forthcoming death sentence will be an action of mercy."

Dearington tried to persuade jurors to order Hayes be executed.

"We cannot tie Steven Hayes to a bed, pour gasoline on him and set him on fire," Dearington said, referring to the killings. "But under our laws, we do have the death penalty."

He added that the Petit family had been "destroyed because Steven Hayes wanted money."

A psychiatrist testified last month that Hayes had told him he would rather be executed.

The girls died of smoke inhalation. Their father managed to escape to a neighbor's home.

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 Sunny Hostin and Nancy Leung contributed to this report.