Conn. judge rejects challenge to death penalty

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))

July 28, 2010 5:07:00 PM PDT
A Connecticut judge has rejected challenges to the death penalty by a man charged in a 2007 home invasion in which a mother and her two daughters were killed.

Lawyers for 47-year-old Steven Hayes argued that executions should no longer be permitted after the legislature's decision last year to abolish the death penalty, even though Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed the bill.

New Haven Judge Jon Blue rejected the argument Wednesday, saying the vote by the legislature was not enough to end the death penalty in Connecticut.

"The action of a single legislature, vetoed in accordance with state law, is insufficient to justify a judicial finding that societal endorsement of the death penalty no longer exists in Connecticut," Blue wrote.

Blue rejected defense claims of a growing national consensus against the death penalty. The judge said 35 states have the death penalty on the books, the same number as in 1976.

Hayes' attorneys also argued that capital punishment should be rejected in his case because Rell violated Hayes' due process rights when she referred to the sole survivor of the home invasion in her veto message.

But Blue said Rell's veto message did not prejudice the case. He also said no one with knowledge of the veto was placed on the jury and that a fair and impartial jury has been selected.

Twenty-nine-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky also is charged in the case. Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, were killed.

Police documents say the two men tied up the victims and poured gasoline on and around them before setting the house on fire and fleeing in the family's car. Both were arrested a short distance from the house in Cheshire, about 15 miles north of New Haven.

Hawke-Petit was strangled and the two girls died of smoke inhalation, according to the medical examiner's office.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky face the possibility of the death penalty if convicted of capital felony charges. Hayes' trial is scheduled to start in September.