- Associated Press - Monday, October 18, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Attorneys for a Connecticut man convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters in a home invasion tried on Monday to persuade a jury to spare him the death penalty by portraying him as a clumsy thief driven by a powerful drug addiction and a more calculating co-defendant.

The penalty phase of the trial of Steven Hayes began in New Haven Superior Court nearly two weeks after Hayes was convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, at their home in Cheshire in 2007. Jurors are weighing whether Hayes should be executed or get a life sentence.

Hayes’ public defender, Patrick Culligan, said in his opening statement he’ll show that Hayes had a drug addiction that controlled his life and that he was influenced by co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky, who will be tried next year. He noted that Hayes has spent 25 years in prison.

“That’s because many of his life choices revolved around his desire and need to satisfy and fuel his drug addiction,” Mr. Culligan said.

Mr. Culligan said he would present evidence of Komisarjevsky’s role in planning and carrying out the home invasion, including what Komisarjevsky told the author of a book who interviewed him in prison.

The defense’s first witness, D’Arcy Lovetere, a former court employee and investigator from Hayes’ hometown, said Hayes had a nonviolent criminal past and was “a follower.” She also called him a “klutz.”

“He wasn’t the best criminal in the world,” Ms. Lovetere said. “He would do things that were really foolish that you knew he’d get caught.”

Hayes was remorseful and desperately wanted help to overcome his addiction to crack cocaine, Ms. Lovetere said.

The prosecution rested its case Monday after calling a court clerk to describe Hayes’ long record of burglary convictions. Prosecutor Michael Dearington said the jurors already have heard the gruesome nature of the attacks.

Mr. Culligan urged jurors to keep an open mind and said he would present witnesses to show that Hayes, who became addicted to drugs as a teenager, “could be a likable person.”

The defense has blamed Komisarjevsky for escalating what had been planned as a burglary in which they would tie up the victims.

Authorities said Hayes and Komisarjevsky broke into the house, beat Dr. William Petit Jr. and forced his wife to withdraw money from a bank before Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled her. Their daughters were tied to their beds before the house was set ablaze.

The crime drew comparisons to “In Cold Blood,” Truman Capote’s chilling book about the 1959 murders of a Kansas family, and prompted more Cheshire residents to get guns. It also led to tougher laws for repeat offenders and home invasions, and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, cited the case when she vetoed a bill that would have abolished the death penalty.

Connecticut has executed only one person since 1960: Serial killer Michael Ross was put to death by lethal injection in 2005.

Komisarjevsky spotted the mother and her two daughters at a supermarket, followed them to their home and then returned later with Hayes, according to authorities. The men were caught fleeing the scene, they said.

Hayes’ lawyers conceded most of the evidence on the trial’s first day. But they blamed Komisarjevsky for escalating the violence at every critical point, starting with Dr. Petit’s beating. Prosecutors rejected that argument, saying they both were equally responsible for the crime.

Jurors heard eight days of gruesome testimony and saw photos of the victims, charred beds, rope, ripped clothing and ransacked rooms. They deliberated for five hours over two days.

Hayes was convicted of six capital felony charges, three murder counts and two charges of sexually assaulting Hawke-Petit. The capital offenses were for killing two or more people, the killing of a person under 16, murder in the course of a sexual assault and three counts of intentionally causing a death during a kidnapping.

 

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