Father of murdered family testifies at trial for 2nd suspect

Dr. William Petit's wife and two daughters were killed in a 2007 home invasion in Cheshire, Connecticut.

Story highlights

  • Dr. William Petit describes the details of the deadly home invasion
  • Petit's wife and two daughters were killed in the February 2007 incident
  • Joshua Komisarjevsky faces 17 charges, including murder and arson
The lone survivor of a deadly home invasion wrapped up his testimony Tuesday afternoon after taking the stand against the second man charged with brutally killing his wife and two daughters.
With relatives packed shoulder to shoulder in the two rows closest to the jury, Dr. William Petit testified in detail about the tragic events at his Cheshire, Connecticut, home on July 23, 2007, beginning with him being awakened by being hit by a bat.
After his hands and feet were tied and a cloth was thrown over his head, he said, he heard a voice say, "If he moves, shoot him." Some of the evidence presented in court Tuesday included a handgun and photos of the rope used to bind Petit. The jury also saw pictures of his bloody head injuries.
Petit told the court that while he was tied to a pole in the basement, he could hear "loud thuds" and "moaning," likely from his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit. Shortly before hearing his wife, Petit was told by one of the intruders, "Don't worry. It'll all be over in a few minutes." Petit said that's when he knew "I had to get out."
Petit managed to escape but could not summon help in time to save his family.
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He described his eldest daughter, Hayley, as captain of her varsity basketball team, a crew participant and soccer player, and Dartmouth-bound. His younger daughter, Michaela, was a piano player, a flute player, into sports and a member of a Brownies troop, he said.
Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, faces 17 charges in connection with the brutal home invasion. The first defendant to stand trial in the case, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death in December after being convicted on 16 of the 17 charges filed against him.
Testimony in the trial began Monday, with witnesses describing the final moments of Petit's wife and daughters inside their burning home and the futile attempts to save them.
Prosecutors declined to give an opening statement to start the trial. But they did introduce tapes from two 911 calls, a bank teller who claimed the mother tried to withdraw $15,000 as ransom and a police officer who found Petit fighting for life outside his family's burning home.
Prosecutors allege that Hayes and Komisarjevsky went into the Petit home, beat and tied up Petit, raped and strangled his wife, molested one of their daughters and set the house on fire before attempting to flee.
The two daughters, who were both tied to their beds, died of smoke inhalation. William Petit managed to escape.
Entering the New Haven court on Monday, the first day of the trial, Petit succinctly told reporters, "I just hope justice is served." Several other members of the victims' family packed the courtroom, many of them wearing pins that Judge Jon C. Blue allowed over defense lawyers' objections that they might sway the jury.
While he didn't present a comprehensive statement, New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington briefly spoke to jurors Monday, explaining that prosecutors believe the jury will be able to listen to the evidence and render a decision. As allowed by law, Dearington said, Komisarjevsky is charged both as a principal and an accessory.
Komisarjevsky's defense attorney, Walter Bansley, told jurors that his client never intended to kill anyone, that his sole purpose in breaking into the Petit home was to steal.
Bansley said Komisarjevsky did not have a weapon. He told jurors that in order to convict Komisarjevsky of capital murder, they must determine he intended to kill someone.
It was Hayes, Bansley said, who raped and strangled Hawke-Petit, poured gasoline in the house and lit a match. Komisarjevsky was a willing participant in the break-in and theft but not the murders, according to Bansley, who recounted mounting dissension between Hayes and Komisarjevsky as the home invasion progressed that morning.
Hayes felt that the Petits needed to be killed, Bansley claimed, but Komisarjevsky refused to kill anyone.
Bansley did allude to a "confession" that Komisarjevsky had later made in the incident. It was not entered into testimony Monday. During Hayes' trial, a court clerk read from a 40-page letter Komisarjevsky wrote to author Brian McDonald in 2008 in which he described the incident.
"All were compliant," he wrote. "This time I took a risk, pulled the trigger, and the chamber was loaded. ... The Petit family passed through their fears and into terror.
"... It was captivating, validating that this pain in me was real. ... I was looking right at my personal demon, reflected back in their eyes. ... Hayley is a fighter; she tried time and time again to free herself. ... Mr. Petit is a coward; he ran away when he thought his life was threatened, and ran away to leave his wife and children to madmen. ... I was cheated of my retribution, and so was Steve. ... I am what I am; I make no excuses. ... I'm a criminal with a criminal mind."
The reading continued, "Michaela, Hayley, and Jennifer, forgive me; I am damned. ... I can't believe I lost control; I hate myself/I love myself. ... I stand condemned."
After the defense lawyers presented their opening statements Monday, the prosecution began to present evidence and call witnesses, starting with the same five people, in the same order, as in Hayes' trial.
The first person on the stand Monday was Mona Huggard, a registered nurse at Petit's medical practice who said Hawke-Petit had called in to say her husband was sick -- only the second time, in her recollection, that he'd ever done so.
Then Kristin Makhzangi testified how Hawke-Petit came to her bank window to withdraw $15,000. Video showed the transaction, which spurred a 911 call from the Bank of America branch's manager, Mary Lyons, warning that that the family might be in trouble. Lyons described Hawke-Petit as "terrified." About an hour after the visit, authorities say, she was dead.
Another 911 call came from the Petits' next-door neighbor David Simcik, who testified spotting William Petit "all banged up" and asking him to call police.
The day ended with Cheshire Police Office Thomas Wright taking the stand to explain how he'd arrived to find Petit bloodied on his neighbor's driveway.
By the time he tried, unsuccessfully, to enter the door of the home, Hayes and Komisarjevsky had left and "everything was burning," Wright said. Authorities threw rocks at windows and doused flames with a nearby hose.
But once they finally got in, "We saw no signs of life," he said.