Lawyers cite mitigating factors in Conn. deaths
Thursday, November 4, 2010
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut man convicted of a deadly home invasion should be spared the death penalty because he was in a “state of intense rage, despair and confusion” during the crimes and is deeply remorseful for what he did, his attorneys said Wednesday.
Steven Hayes was convicted last month of murdering Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters in a horrific home invasion in Cheshire in 2007.
His attorneys filed a list of mitigating factors in New Haven Superior Court on Wednesday. The same jury that convicted Hayes must now weigh those factors against aggravating factors cited by prosecutors, including the heinous and cruel nature of the deaths, in deciding whether to sentence Hayes to death or life in prison.
The defense said Hayes fears life more than death and cited his abusive childhood and history of drug addiction. Deliberations are tentatively expected to begin Friday following closing arguments on Thursday.
Defense lawyers have depicted Hayes as a follower, while asserting that his co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, was the mastermind who escalated the violence.
“Steven Hayes has responded subsequent to the crime with shame, humiliation, depression, suicidality and empathy for the victims. His response is sharp in contrast to the co-defendant’s, who has glorified in writing the exercise of violent criminal power and sexual abuse over the Petit family,” defense attorney Tom Ullmann wrote in the court documents filed Wednesday.
Prosecutors say both men are equally responsible. Komisarjevsky will be tried next year.
The defense also noted that Hayes accepted responsibility for his crimes early on and offered to plead guilty before the trial in exchange for a life sentence.
“Steven Hayes has a conscience and is remorseful,” Ullmann wrote.
Hayes’ attorneys also say his prison conditions in which he is kept isolated 24 hours per day and his guilty feelings “make his life nearly unbearable and worse than any fear or dread of death.”
Prosecutors called a prison official who testified Tuesday that Hayes indicated he would be fine with a life sentence and that he told her before the trial he planned to use his apparent suicidal behavior in prison to try to show he was remorseful and influence his sentence.
Authorities said Hayes and Komisarjevsky broke into the Petit house, beat Hawke-Petit’s husband, William, with a baseball bat and forced her to withdraw money from a bank before Hayes strangled and sexually assaulted her. Their daughters, Michaela and Hayley, died of smoke inhalation after they were tied to their beds with pillowcases over their heads and doused with gasoline before the house was set ablaze, according to testimony.
Superior Court Judge Jon Blue on Wednesday rejected defense attorneys’ objection to using an alternate juror to help decide punishment. Last week, Blue dismissed one juror who was overheard making a derogatory comment about the defense and replaced that juror with an alternate.
Ullmann said the law calls for the jury that determined Hayes’ guilt to decide his sentence. He says the alternate was not a member of the group that determined Hayes’ guilt.
The judge acknowledged Wednesday that the issue is “very tricky” and that the law is not clear, and said lawyers could renew their request after the verdict. He also noted it was the defense who wanted the regular juror dismissed and said the case could proceed without the alternate and only 11 jurors if both sides agreed.
Ullmann also objected to Blue’s plan to have the jury deliberate into Friday evening and the weekend if necessary.
“I think it’s a mistake to kind of imply to the jury that it’s under pressure to make a decision,” Ullmann said. “It starts to suggest to them we need to get this verdict in as quick as possible.”
Blue said it’s his practice in all such cases and that he wants to avoid jury contamination. He said jurors are more likely to face pressure outside of court and he said the schedule does not pressure the jury on which way they should rule.
There is only one alternate juror left.
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