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Jurors: Serving in deadly home invasion case was life-changing

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Hayes juror: Justice has prevailed
  • NEW: "If he had life in prison, that would be going home for him," a juror says
  • Jurors say the case took an emotional and physical toll
  • They decided Monday that Steven Hayes should die for his crimes
  • "We came to the right decision," one says

(CNN) -- Jurors who convicted a man of three murders in a 2007 Connecticut home invasion and recommended he be put to death for his crimes said Tuesday that serving on the case changed their lives -- and took an emotional and sometimes physical toll.

"This has strengthened my faith," Paula Calzetta told In Session on the truTV network. "We all came together. It was amazing, how it worked out, and we came to the right decision. I know that this is, for me, God's plan, and I think I'm honored to be a part of that."

Jurors recommended Monday that Steven Hayes, 47, should die for his role in the 2007 invasion of a home in Cheshire, Connecticut, that left Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, dead along with her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley Petit and 11-year-old Michaela Petit. They earlier convicted Hayes on a list of charges, including murder, capital murder and kidnapping.

Prosecutors alleged Hayes and co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky invaded the home of Dr. William Petit on July 23, 2007, beat and tied up Petit, raped and strangled Hawke-Petit, molested one of their daughters and set the house on fire before attempting to flee. The two daughters, who had been tied to their beds, died of smoke inhalation.

Hayes also forced Hawke-Petit to go to a bank and withdraw $15,000 from an account after finding evidence the account held between $20,000 and $30,000, authorities said. Komisarjevsky is to be tried separately later.

Petit: 'God will be final arbiter'

Cindy Hawke-Renn, Hawke-Petit's sister, said Tuesday she does not believe closure can ever exist in a case like this.

"I think justice has been served, but I don't know that there truly is anything just, when something like this happens," she said.

The brutality of the case sent shock waves through Connecticut and beyond. Calzetta and juror Maico Cardona said they were haunted by pictures they viewed -- especially pictures of the Petit daughters.

"I have a 10-year-old daughter at home," Cardona said. "... Michaela was the one factor, for me, that I could not get over." He said he was plagued by a recurring nightmare in which an 11-year-old girl was "screaming for my help, and I'm not able to help her."

"That is burned in my memory, those pictures of those girls," Calzetta said.

She said during the trial, "I thought I was doing really well. And we gave our guilty verdict, and I went home and just collapsed. I was sick for a week and a half." She said she focused on taking care of herself during the penalty phase. "It takes a toll on your body you don't even realize," she said.

Both jurors said it was hard not being able to talk about the case with their families or even each other during the trial. And they said they were struck by the fact that Hayes remained stoic and showed no remorse.

"He's an empty shell ... hollow eyes and an empty shell," Calzetta said. But she said she was able to view Hayes more as a human being after his defense attorneys moved him closer to the jury. "That really affected me," she said. "I had never seen him that close."

Both said the jury took the case and their responsibility very seriously. But both maintained that Hayes should never again walk free.

Cardona said it was important to him that Hayes receive the death penalty because "I knew that he would be in a cell by himself, secluded ... that's what he hated." If jurors had recommended Hayes be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, "he would have been in general population," Cardona said. "That's what he liked. That's what he was used to."

A third juror, Diane Keim, said: "If he had life in prison, that would be going home for him."

Hayes has been in and out of the criminal justice system since he was 17 years old for a laundry-list of offenses.

Cardona said he had difficulty viewing Hayes as a person and not just a perpetrator, but maintained that everyone deserves a fair trial -- and that Hayes got one.

Those outside the jury room wondered why jurors took their time to decide on the death penalty, Calzetta and Cardona said -- their verdict came on the fourth day of deliberation. But "we wanted to make sure everybody was comfortable with the decision," Cardona said.

"This is a huge deal," Calzetta said. "Everybody needed their own time."

"I have a very spiritual background, and I thought that this would be the only opportunity for this man to ever make peace with his Supreme Being, if he even has one," or to accept responsibility, Calzetta said. She felt the death penalty was necessary for Hayes to accept responsibility or experience remorse.

Keim said the jurors had some trouble sorting out the paperwork and procedures, but likewise stressed the significance of their decision.

"All 12 of us tried to keep our emotions in check because we knew that we had to make a decision here on a man's life. And it was very very difficult for us," she said.

Both Calzetta and Cardona said they did not buy the defense's claim that Hayes was merely a follower and KomisarjevskyCalzetta said. "He's a man, and he made his choices. Unfortunately, they were the wrong ones. ... He needs to be accountable." the ringleader of the crime, saying that Hayes had plenty of opportunities to make different choices, to stop or to leave, and did not. "Calling him a follower is just too easy,"

Cardona said he did not believe testimony that Komisarjevsky triggered Hayes' rage by telling him, when he returned from the bank with Hawke-Petit, that the girls were dead. A police officer who interviewed Hayes just after his arrest testified that Hayes told him he saw Michaela upon his return and saw that she had changed clothes, Cardona pointed out.

Asked about whether they were overcome by emotion at times, Calzetta said, "Oh, several times. I don't think any of us expected it when it did overcome us."

Looking at the bank video of Hawke-Petit was particularly hard, she said, as jurors knew the woman was being brave and doing what she felt she had to do to save her family. "She had no idea what she was walking into," Calzetta said. "No one could have known. And all three of those girls were, I think, very brave in their final moments. They didn't deserve this."

"It was a very emotional case and a very emotional two months," Cardona said.

But he praised the other jurors for following the letter of the law and conducting civilized deliberations. "There was never a shouting match," he said. "There was never insults."

Both Calzetta and Cardona said they felt privileged to have served alongside the others. "We worked extremely hard," Cardona said.

Jurors also praised the Petit family, saying they spoke to William Petit and others after the trial. "It was so wonderful to hug these people," Calzetta said, "and they treated us like family, and we feel almost like family because we've seen such intimate things of their life and lived some things with them, and they are the most wonderful people that I think I've come across in a long time."

Cardona said he was struck by the Petit family telling jurors they were sorry the panel had to go through such an experience. "This family is so dignified, gracious, classy," he said. William Petit "held his head high throughout this entire case," he said. "... He was an inspiration to all of us."

The Petit family had said they were praying for the jurors. "It's amazing to me that in the midst of their horror and grief they are so generous to think about praying for us, there in the midst of this horror. It's heartwarming," Calzetta said. "... I can't even put it to words."

Calzetta said she plans to attend Komisarjevsky's trial because she wants to support the Petit family.

Jurors acknowledged that it is likely their lives will never be the same. Cardona said he thought he would be all right because he's seen movies and television, but he found it's different when something actually took place.

"You want to feel safe in your home," he said, but "... there's more people like this out there."