Petit murder suspect had long, troubled history of drugs, crime

Story highlights

  • Joshua Komisarjevsky was convicted in 2002 on 12 counts of burglary
  • Five years later, after being released on parole, he was accused of murder
  • Prosecutors say he killed a Connecticut woman and set a fire that killed her daughters
"A calculated, cold-blooded predator." That was how Connecticut Judge James Bentivegna described a then 22-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky on December 20, 2002, when the defendant was sentenced after being convicted on 12 counts of burglary.
Today, Komisarjevsky -- now 31 -- sits in a Connecticut courtroom, where a jury will weigh his guilt on murder charges, and potentially pave the way for a death sentence.
Prosecutors say that on July 23, 2007, Komisarjevsky and an accomplice, Steven Hayes, invaded the home of Dr. William Petit, raped and strangled his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, molested one of their daughters, and set the house on fire before attempting to flee.
Hawke-Petit and her daughters -- 17-year-old Hayley Petit and 11-year-old Michaela Petit -- died in the invasion of their Cheshire, Connecticut, home. Dr. William Petit, although severely beaten, managed to escape and crawl to a neighbor's residence.
Hayes was sentenced to death in December, after being convicted of 16 out of the 17 charges related to the three deaths.
Both suspects had lengthy criminal records when they were arrested for the Petit invasion. Komisarjevsky's long rap sheet, in particular, suggest that he was a troubled young man with a penchant for nighttime burglary and crystal meth.
Officials with the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to speak with CNN, citing a gag order in the case. But over 200 pages of Komisarjevsky's parole records have been released, which -- along with previous court testimony -- help paint a picture of the accused.
One of his former attorneys, William Gerace, said that Komisarjevsky came from a close, religious family. But at the age of 14, he began using drugs -- the same year, he claims, that he found out that he was adopted.
By 18, Komisarjevsky had found his drugs of choice: crystal meth and cocaine. He told the parole board that he stole money and electronics from upscale homes to feed his drug habit.
Yet a transcript from his 2002 sentencing paints Komisarjevsky as more than just the average thief. According to a police statement read aloud in court that day, Komisarjevsky admitted that he broke into his first house when he was 14 years old.
"I always wore gloves, with the exception of one incident when I was 14. I always acted alone. Approximately a year and a half ago, I acquired night vision goggles... I used the night-vision equipment during the burglaries (over) the past year," he said, according to the transcript.
Gerace, who was Komisarjevsky's defense attorney at the time, stressed that a need for money, to pay for drugs, drove his client. But he admitted that the way he went about it was unusual.
"Ninety-nine percent of burglaries are (committed by) junkies -- there's nothing romantic about what they do," said Gerace. "That was the first time I'd seen something as exotic as that."
Komisarjevsky confessed that he only broke into homes at night and never during the day -- a point stressed by prosecutors in the 2002 trial. They said his affinity for breaking into people's homes at night showed that he wanted a confrontation, since that was the time when the residents were the most likely to be at home.
Speaking during his December 2002 sentencing, Komisarjevsky appeared repentant. He addressed the court saying, "I've turned my back on my faith in God and my family. And in doing so, I fell flat on my face and deep into hard drugs...the crimes I committed was weighing so heavily on my shoulders."
But the judge was not moved by Komisarjevsky's show of remorse, sentencing him to nine years in prison plus six years of special parole, which has greater restrictions than typical probation.
In April 2007, he was paroled. And three months later, Komisarjevsky was arrested for the Petit home invasion and murders.
What happened then, and what may have driven Komisarjevsky, remains a mystery to Gerace, his former attorney.
"He was a very complex young man. I don't think I've met anyone quite that complex, and I sensed there was an abundance of issues that had to be dealt with," Gerace said. "I wish him well, and I hope the jury makes the right decision."