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2nd man guilty of murder in Cheshire home invasion

October 14, 2011 4:40:08 AM PDT
A man was convicted Thursday of murdering a woman and her two daughters in a gruesome 2007 home invasion in which family members were tied up, molested, doused in gas and left to die in a fire. He now faces a possible death sentence.

Joshua Komisarjevsky, whose accomplice is already on Connecticut's death row, stood and faced jurors as they declared him guilty of all 17 charges he faced, including capital felony killing, kidnapping and sexual assault. After the verdict was read he sat back in his chair, rocked slightly back and forth and glanced briefly at the jury. He yawned as he was led out of the courtroom.

The only survivor of the attack, Dr. William Petit, bit his lip and closed his eyes as the verdict was read.

"I thought from the beginning that he was a lying sociopathic personality and probably at this moment he doesn't think he is guilty of anything," he told reporters outside the courthouse.

The New Haven Superior Court jury deliberated for about eight hours over two days before delivering a verdict and will decide later whether Komisarjevsky, 31, should be executed or sentenced to life in prison. The penalty phase will conclude the second and final trial in a case that unsettled suburb dwellers across the country and bolstered efforts to retain the death penalty in Connecticut.

Komisarjevsky's co-defendant, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death last year after he was convicted of raping and strangling Jennifer Hawke-Petit and killing her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, who died of smoke inhalation.

The two paroled burglars spotted Hawke-Petit and her youngest daughter at a grocery store on July 22, 2007, and followed them back to the house, where they beat Petit with a baseball bat and tied up his wife and daughters. The night of terror drew comparisons to Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," which documented the brutal murders of a farmer and members of his family.

Hayes forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw money from a bank before he raped and strangled her in the family's Cheshire home.

The girls, who had pillowcases placed over their heads, died after the house was doused with gas and set on fire.

During more than two weeks of testimony, prosecutors played an audiotaped confession in which Komisarjevsky spoke matter-of-factly and laughed occasionally. He admitted beating Petit and molesting his younger daughter and taking photos of her, but insisted Hayes wanted to kill the family because he was worried about his DNA at the scene.

Prosecutor Gary Nicholson said in his closing argument that Komisarjevsky was motivated not just by money but by his interest in 11-year-old Michaela. He was convicted of sexually assaulting her.

"Michaela Petit, he was interested in her from the moment he saw her," Nicholson said.

Petit said he always felt the case was partly about sexual predation upon women, and the focus on Michaela made Komisarjevsky's trial particularly difficult.

"I thought a thousand times what would have been different if I had two sons instead of two daughters," he said.

He said he was sickened by claims Komisarjevksy made in his confession to police that he had a kind of connection with Michaela.

"She was incredibly shy around men," Petit said. "To hear a statement that they locked eyes and there was some kind of bond was really nauseating and beyond the pale."

Komisarjevsky said Hayes poured the gas and lit the fire, but test results showed he had gas on his clothes. They also showed the girl he molested had bleach on her clothes, undermining his claim that only Hayes was worried about DNA.

Jurors saw grim evidence, including charred beds, rope used to tie up the family and autopsy photos. Gas was poured on Hayley's bed and on her sister, according to testimony. Jurors also heard testimony that Hayley likely took up to several minutes to die and it was unclear if burns found on her body occurred before or after she died.

William Petit left the courtroom for some parts of the testimony but took the stand to describe how he fell, crawled and rolled in his frantic escape to a neighbor's house to get help.

Attorneys for Komisarjevsky said he never intended to kill anyone. They played a part of Komisarjevsky's confession in which he claims he told Hayes, "No one is dying by my hand today."

One of the attorneys, Walter Bansley III, said the defense hopes the verdict helps the family with their pain. He said they have confidence in the jury system as they shift their attention to sparing their client from the death penalty.

"We have no doubt the jury will view the evidence with compassion and mercy," he said.

Komisarjevsky was sexually abused as a child and suffered multiple concussions and later turned to drugs, according to defense lawyers. A psychologist hired by the defense said that history increased his likelihood of criminal activity - an argument defense lawyers are likely to stress during the penalty phase, which is set for Oct. 24.

Connecticut's death penalty has only been implemented once in the past 51 years, when serial killer Michael Ross was executed in 2005.

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