Conn. triple murder suspect nixes guilty plea

This inmate photo released by the Connecticut Department of Correction shows Steven Hayes, convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters during a home invasion in Cheshire, Conn., in 2007. ((AP Photo/Connecticut Department of Correction))

April 6, 2010 9:01:00 AM PDT
Jury selection resumed Tuesday in a Connecticut triple-murder case after the defendant told a judge he no longer wishes to change his plea to guilty. Steven Hayes, 46, and a co-defendant, 29-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky, are charged with capital felony, murder and sexual assault in the 2007 killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters at their Cheshire home. Both face the possibility of the death penalty.

Last week, Hayes said he wanted to change his plea to guilty, and Superior Court Judge Jon Blue scheduled a hearing to discuss the plea.

But after a meeting with lawyers, Hayes paused and answered "yes" in court Tuesday when Blue asked if he was satisfied with his attorneys' advice to proceed to trial. His attorneys had argued that Hayes was not competent to change his plea and was seeking "suicide by state."

Defense attorney Thomas Ullmann said it was not an easy decision for Hayes or the lawyers. Ullmann had threatened to withdraw from the case if Hayes was allowed to change his plea.

"Counsel's obligation should be obvious," Ullmann said. "We are not here to assist Mr. Hayes in committing suicide, either by his own hands or by the state of Connecticut. Suicidal behavior is pathological and not rational."

Defense lawyers have been concerned about Hayes' mental state since he tried to kill himself in prison on Jan. 30. But state experts who evaluated Hayes issued a report last week concluding he was competent to stand trial.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky are accused of breaking into the Petit home, beating Dr. William Petit and holding the family hostage for hours before strangling his wife and setting the house on fire.

Eleven-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, who had been tied to their beds, died of smoke inhalation.

Shortly after Hayes indicated he would not be pleading guilty, he changed from a prison jumpsuit into civilian clothes and jury selection resumed.

William Petit, who survived the attack, last week called Hayes' request to change his plea a "moment of honesty" and said he would feel some relief if it sped up the process of justice. Petit was not in court Tuesday.