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Jury weighs life or death in Conn. home invasion

December 6, 2011 5:08:51 AM PST
Jurors on Monday began deliberating whether a man convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters in a 2007 home invasion should get the death penalty or life in prison.

The jury deliberated less than two hours before convening for the day in the sentencing phase of Joshua Komisarjevsky's trial in New Haven Superior Court. They will resume their talks on Tuesday.

Komisarjevsky and co-defendant Steven Hayes were convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, at their Cheshire home. The girls' father, Dr. William Petit, was beaten but survived.

Komisarjevsky's attorneys say their client's life should be spared because he was sexually abused as a child and never got proper psychological help. Prosecutors cite the heinous and cruel nature of the crime.

The jury elected a forewoman and started discussing Komisarjevsky's fate after Judge Jon Blue told the panel, "You and you alone must decide whether Joshua Komisarjevsky, a fellow human being, is to live or die."

Hayes is on death row for raping and strangling Hawke-Petit and killing the girls, who died of smoke inhalation after they were tied to their beds, doused in gas and left to die in a fire. Hayes' jury deliberated last year into a fourth day before condemning him.

Komisarjevsky was convicted in October of the killings and of sexually assaulting Michaela. He didn't testify during his trial, and Blue reminded the jurors that they can't hold that against him.

Komisarjevsky was convicted of six capital felony counts that exposed him to a possible death sentence. Those counts are for killing two or more people, killing Michaela after sexually assaulting her, killing someone under 16 and three counts of killing someone he had kidnapped.

His defense is citing dozens of other so-called mitigating factors, including arguing that his role was relatively minor in relation to Hayes'. Prosecutors say it took both men to carry out the crime.

The defense also says Komisarjevsky suffered from a mood disorder from an early age that was never treated.

Defense attorney Walter Bansley said in his closing argument that the defense is sorry for the crime, but he said Komisarjevsky should get life in prison, describing him as damaged from the sexual abuse.

"Think of the terror Joshua must have experienced," Bansley said.

A death sentence also would be tougher on Komisarjevsky's 9-year-old daughter, Bansley said.

In support of the death penalty, prosecutor Gary Nicholson said during his closing argument Friday that the men created "the ultimate house of horrors," inflicting extreme psychological and physical pain on the victims that amounted to torture. He said the girls would have been screaming for their lives before their house was set on fire.

"It was shockingly brutal. It was evil. It was vicious," Nicholson said, adding the men created a "hellish inferno."


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