Dr. William Petit made a valiant but futile effort to save his family from an inconceivable nightmare in human form. As the only survivor of a home invasion rape, arson, and triple murder, a bound and bleeding Petit hopped and rolled from his basement torture chamber and managed to alert police that his wife and two daughters were trapped inside their burning house.
For eight days, the quiet, soft-spoken Petit sat in court listening to court testimony regarding the horror that unfolded on Sorghum Drive in quiet Cheshire, Connecticut. Local newspapers like the Hartford Courant were perhaps justified in covering the story of the prosecution in its excruciating and painful detail. It is in the nature of effective prosecution to turn every stone, seal every possible exit.
The Better Memory of Jennifer Hawke-Petit
Until recently, TruTV (formerly Court TV) wasn’t doing anything more than reading the headlines. Then the “In Session” segment of TruTV began covering the Petit murders after giving Jennifer Petit-Hawke’s sister, Cindy Renn, a chance to speak for the victims:
“I would hate it for everyone’s last memory of Jennifer to be of the way she died.”
Jennifer Hawke-Petit’s sister went on to describe a warm and genuine person, a woman people looked up to and could count on, and the two Petit daughters, intelligent and lively. The youngest girl, Michaela, was delicate and reticent of men she didn’t know well and long.
Inside the Connecticut Courtroom
And there was Doctor Petit, his remaining family, including his wife’s parents, sitting in court like people of steel, enduring. More than once, Pettit left the courtroom, the horrible details so completely etched in his mind that they didn’t bear repeating but for the exigencies of the legal system.
The Steven Hayes Defense: a lesser monster
Across from the victim’s families in the courtroom is Steven Hayes, who confessed to strangling and raping Jennifer Hawke-Petit, the doctor’s wife. Hayes’ lawyers have managed to secure a separate trial for him, and what small advantage this provides is outrageous but within the proscription of law. Hayes’ defense is based on the hope of creating the false impression of a being a lesser monster than Komisarjevksy.
Both the defense and prosecutors have wrapped up their case and the juror could begin deliberating tomorrow, October 4. A guilty verdict cannot be avoided except by the hand of the devil. Police caught Hayes and Komisarjevsky fleeing the premises where the two men are charged with setting fire to the house after a stunning paroxysm of rape, torture, and murder.
Connecticut’s Death Penalty History
The case is more about the defense attorneys trying to see if they can avoid their client’s getting the death penalty than anything else. Connecticut does have a death penalty but the last time it was used was in 2005. The method of execution in Connecticut currently is lethal injection but there are many observers of the Pettit trial who have to be dreaming of earlier historical days in Connecticut.
In historical Connecticut, hanging endured from the earliest recorded execution in 1639 until 1937 when the electric chair was introduced to hang a steamfitter convicted of murder. The 1937 execution of a capital punishment sentence by electric chair launched a spate of electrocutions which continued until 1960.
From 1960 to 2005, when lethal injection was introduced into Connecticut, there had been a decades long timeout on executions, an encouraging development for vicious criminals. Had the Pettit murders occurred then, Hayes and Komisarjevsky would likely have gladly entrusted themselves to the lifelong care of Connecticut.
Connecticut Governor Vetoes Death Penalty
Connecticut Republican governor Jodi Rell vetoed a 2009 legislative bill which would have abolished the death penalty in the state, professing her belief that capital punishment is justified for certain heinous crimes. Now, abolishment voices are largely quiet. The circumstances of the Petit murders seems to have driven previously vocal Connecticut death penalty abolishment groups into a stunned silence.
In the Petit trial now, we have the Hayes defense attorneys arguing that Hayes, the older man, was a starry-eyed weak-minded follower led astray by a charismatic career thrill burglar, Joshua Komisarjevsky. The defense offers the view that Steven Hayes did strangle and rape Jennifer Hawke-Petit but was too nice to have committed any of the other hideous acts inflicted on the women and children of the Petit family.
Franz Kafka, Marquis De Sade, and Charles Manson
Hearing defense attorneys make this argument for Hayes, jurors must think they have landed in a play written by Kafka, with actors borrowed from the Marquis De Sade, and directed by Charles Manson. When Komisarjevsky is tried separately on a future date, it will be for the Petits and Hawkes as if psychological tortures were endlessly run through a copy machine.