Judge rejects challenge to Conn. death sentence

November 26, 2010 10:25:14 AM PST
A Connecticut judge on Friday rejected defense lawyers' request to throw out a jury verdict that condemned a man to death for the killings of a woman and her two daughters during a home invasion.

Lawyers for Steven Hayes had argued that the jury was unduly swayed by emotion after hearing and seeing gruesome testimony and evidence during the two-month trial and penalty phase. Jurors on Nov. 8 condemned Hayes to die by lethal injection.

New Haven Superior Court Judge Jon Blue denied defense lawyers' motion seeking a new trial, new penalty phase hearing or a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is expected to impose the death penalty on Hayes on Dec. 2.

"The jury gave every indication that it was an exceptionally sober group of citizens taking its awesome responsibility with the utmost seriousness," Blue wrote in his decision, adding that the jury's actions were "not the behavior of a jury driven by passion and prejudice."

Hayes' public defender, Thomas Ullmann, responded to the ruling Friday.

"I don't think this was unexpected," Ullmann said, adding that he expects the same issues to be brought up during the appeals process.

Authorities say Hayes and another defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, who is to go on trial next year, tormented the Petit family for hours in their suburban Cheshire home in July 2007.

The girls, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year Hayley, were tied to their beds with pillowcases over their heads, doused with gasoline and left to die in a fire. Hayes also forced their mother, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, to withdraw money from a bank before he sexually assaulted and strangled her in the family's home.

Komisarjevsky allegedly spotted the mother and daughters at a local supermarket, followed them home and returned later with Hayes. Komisarjevsky, who also faces the possibility of the death penalty, is also accused of sexually assaulting Michaela.

The girls' father, Dr. William Petit, was beaten but survived.

The jurors in Hayes' trial were shown autopsy pictures of the victims, as well as photos of the girls' charred beds, rope, ripped clothing and ransacked rooms.

After the trial was over, state judicial officials took the rare step of offering counseling services to the jury because of horrific testimony and evidence.


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