- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A judge denied an effort Wednesday by lawyers for a Connecticut man charged with killing a woman and her two daughters in a home invasion to reopen their defense based on letters from a co-defendant claiming he had committed numerous murders in the past. The case then went to the jury.

Lawyers for defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky cited letters from Steven Hayes claiming Hayes had killed 17 people in the Northeast and committed dozens of drugged date rapes.

Authorities say Mr. Komisarjevsky and Hayes broke into the Cheshire home in 2007, beat Dr. William Petit Jr. with a bat, tied him and his family up, and forced his wife to withdraw money from a bank. The house was doused in gas and set on fire, leading to the girls’ deaths from smoke inhalation.

Hayes was convicted last year of raping and strangling Jennifer Hawke-Petit, Dr. Petit’s wife, and killing her daughters. He is on death row.

Jury deliberations began late Wednesday morning.

After a little more than an hour, jurors sent the judge a note asking, “When giving the verdict, do we need to specify if we have found him guilty as a principal or an accessory?”

Judge Jon Blue said that jurors don’t have to specify and that if they find him guilty of a charge, they don’t need to be unanimous on whether they believe he’s an accessory or principal.

Judge Blue denied a motion for a mistrial by Mr. Komisarjevsky’s lawyers, who said a prosecution expert sitting close to jurors rolled her eyes seven times in disbelief during the defense’s closing arguments. Judge Blue did call jurors out from the deliberations room to caution them that any facial expressions by spectators are not evidence and should be disregarded.

The letters came to light just before closing arguments Tuesday in New Haven Superior Court. Mr. Komisarjevsky’s lawyers say the letters could help their arguments that Hayes was the leader of the crime.

Judge Blue said Wednesday the claims were not corroborated and actually would hurt Mr. Komisarjevsky’s case because of claims Hayes makes in the letters about the Connecticut crime. Testimony is reopened to avoid miscarriages of justice, he said.

Judge Blue said Hayes’ claims, if truthful, would make him one of the greatest serial killers in American history. But he said the claims are vague, with no dates, locations or other details.

“It certainly means there is no real corroboration of this,” Judge Blue said.

The judge said Hayes only would invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination if called to testify. He said the letters blame Mr.  Komisarjevsky for much of the home invasion.

“This would be the seal of Mr. Komisarjevsky’s doom,” Judge Blue said.

A prosecutor called the letters unreliable.

Spokesmen for the FBI and Connecticut State Police declined to comment Wednesday on whether their agencies are looking into Hayes’ murder and rape claims. The state Department of Correction did not immediately respond to a request by the Associated Press to release copies of Hayes’ letters.

Judge Blue also denied a defense motion for a mistrial based on comments prosecutors made during closing arguments.

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