Judge, attorneys clash in Conn. home invasion case

In this July 1007 photograph supplied by the Connecticut State Police, Joshua Komisarjevsky is shown. Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes face the possibility of the death penalty if convicted in the 2007 killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela. Hawke-Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit, was beaten but survived. (AP Photo/Connecticut State Police)

February 15, 2011 5:35:23 PM PST
Attorneys for a man charged with a home invasion that left a mother and her two daughters dead clashed sharply Tuesday with a judge, who questioned whether one of the lawyers was threatening a filibuster of jury selection.

New Haven Superior Court Judge Jon Blue called Tuesday's dispute a grave matter and said he would take it up again Wednesday.

Attorneys for Joshua Komisarjevsky wanted Blue removed from his trial in the 2007 murders of the mother and her daughters in Cheshire, a wealthy New Haven suburb. Another judge rejected that request Tuesday, ruling he had showed no bias in an earlier trial of Komisarjevksy's co-defendant.

One of Komisarjevsky's attorneys, Jeremiah Donovan, later in the day clashed with Blue over his request to schedule jury selection four days per week instead of five so he could handle other cases and keep his law practice running during a lengthy trial.

Blue said he was concerned by a statement in Donovan's motion that said if the judge insisted on five days per week of jury selection it would be "highly doubtful that the defendant will receive the kind of focused and vigorous representation that the Constitution demands" in death penalty cases and that it could spark an appeal.

As Blue pressed Donovan about what he meant, Donovan said the judge was twisting his words. Donovan said he would spend the same amount of time on the case regardless of the schedule, but he said he would urge his fellow attorneys to ask lengthy questions of prospective jurors so none is picked on days he couldn't make it to court.

Blue repeatedly questioned whether Donovan was threatening a filibuster. He then asked Donovan and his two colleagues to clarify on Wednesday what they meant in the motion.

That prompted, another of Komisarjevsky's attorneys, Walter Bansley, to accuse Blue of trying to divide them.

Authorities say Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley. The girls' father, Dr. William Petit, was beaten but survived.

Hayes was convicted last year of sexually assaulting and strangling Hawke-Petit and was sentenced to death. Authorities say he and Komisarjevsky tied her daughters to their beds, poured gasoline on or around them and set fire to their home.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky have blamed each other for escalating the crime. Jury selection for Komisarjevsky's trial is scheduled to start March 14.

Komisarjevsky's attorneys said Blue repeatedly made gratuitous comments while presiding over Hayes' trial, such as saying there was "good reason" that Hayes was "a man universally despised."

Komisarjevsky's attorneys also challenged Blue's suggestion that jurors could hug one another after hearing gruesome evidence.

"A judge has to stay above the fray," Komisarjevsky's attorney Todd Bussert said. "That is a direct appeal to emotion. We want a judge who can stay above the fray, because that's what the law requires."

The attorneys also criticized Blue for handing out cookies to the news media and the public.

Superior Court Judge Brian Fischer, who denied the motion to remove Blue, said there was no evidence Blue gave the cookies to relatives of the victims. Fischer said it was the jurors, not Blue, who convicted Hayes and condemned him to death. He said Blue's comments did not show bias toward Komisarjevsky.

Prosecutors argued Blue should not be disqualified, saying his comments were fair and based on the evidence.

Blue also rejected several other defense motions, including a claim that murder charges that could expose Komisarjevsky to the death penalty should be dismissed because evidence from the first trial showed that Hayes raped and killed Hawke-Petit and poured the gasoline and lit the fire that led to the smoke inhalation deaths of the girls.

But prosecutors have said that both men were equally responsible for the crime and that Hayes blamed Komisarjevsky for escalating the violence by beating Petit with a baseball bat.

Attorneys for Komisarjevsky want to move the trial to Fairfield County, the next county over, saying Komisarjevsky had been so "demonized" during the first trial that it was impossible for him to get a fair trial in New Haven. That motion will be heard next week.

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