published Friday, January 27th, 2012

In Connecticut, Komisarjevsky gets death in home-invasion murders

William Petit Sr. stands with his wife Barbara and family outside Superior Court in New Haven after the formal sentencing today of Joshua Komisarjevsky in New Haven, Conn. Komisarjevsky is joining co-defendent Steven Hayes on death row for the 2007 killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley and Michaela, in their Cheshire home. William Petit Jr. is the sole survivor of the crime. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
William Petit Sr. stands with his wife Barbara and family outside Superior Court in New Haven after the formal sentencing today of Joshua Komisarjevsky in New Haven, Conn. Komisarjevsky is joining co-defendent Steven Hayes on death row for the 2007 killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley and Michaela, in their Cheshire home. William Petit Jr. is the sole survivor of the crime. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

By Alaine Griffin,The Hartford Courant (MCT)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. Joshua Komisarjevsky was formally sentenced to death Friday for the home invasion attack that left Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley and Micahela, dead in their Cheshire, Conn., home in the summer of 2007.

"May God have mercy on your soul," Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue told Komisarjevsky as he set an execution date for July 20. An appeal is automatic and mandatory.

"This is a terrible sentence, but it is a sentence you indeed wrote for yourself," Blue said.

Moments before the sentence was pronounced, and with Dr. William Petit Jr. _ the lone survivor _ out of the courtroom, Komisarjevsky told the court that he had to learn how to forgive his worst enemy: himself.

Komisarjevsky, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, spoke mostly about himself in his statement but again insisted _ as he did at trial _ that he never intended to kill.

"They were never supposed to lose their lives," Komisarjevsky said.

He said he "did not rape." He said he did not strangle Hawke-Petit or set the house on fire.

"The ripple effect of my actions has had an effect on people I never intended to hurt," he said. "It's a surreal experience to be condemned to death."

He talked about the shame, hurt and disappointment he caused and he spoke of family members that do not want him to die.

Shortly after the sentencing, Chris Komisarjevsky, Joshua's uncle, who had attended memorial services for the Petits, said he had a difficult time hearing his nephew's statement but heard enough to know it was not an apology.

"There was no expression of sorry," he said. "What I heard were excuses from his youth. I believe everyone is responsible for their own actions, and the jury here has made him responsible for his."

One of the jurors, 29-year-old Tashana Milton of West Haven, Conn., said she attended Friday's sentencing because she felt she had something to finish.

"It was really important for me to conclude this entire process. I would have felt like didn't complete my duty," Milton said. She said she kept looking for some emotion on Komisarjevsky's face but did not find it.

"I wonder if he really feels bad about what's happened," she said. "I couldn't tell."

Milton said she suffered from paranoia and other issues since her jury duty and is always on guard, urging relatives to be safe as they go about their lives.

She called watching the judge condemn Komisarjevsky to death was terrible and "intensely emotional."

Earlier, as photos of his family were displayed on a movie screen, Dr. William Petit Jr. recalled the wife and two daughters he lost in the July, 23, 2007, deadly home invasion.

Reading a statement before the judge, Petit talked of missing late-night talks with his wife of 26 years and listed the many good deeds she did for others.

He recalled his elder daughter, Hayley, 17, a hard-working scholar athlete who was planning to attend his alma mater, Dartmouth College.

"She was a good, kind gentle soul," he said.

And he remembered Michaela, 11, whose nickname was "KK," as "a happy girl who managed to get along with everyone. She loved to cook, care for animals, play music, plant flowers and sing.

"I will never again see the twinkle in KK's eyes when she makes me breakfast for my birthday," Petit said.

He called the day when all three perished his personal Holocaust

Family members of the Cheshire home invasion victims, after watching in silence for months as defense lawyers fought for Komisarjevsky's life, finally had their say in Superior Court Friday morning as a judge prepared to sentence the convicted killer to death.

The father of Jennifer Hawke-Petit spoke to his daughter's killer via a videotape statement.

Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, Komisarjevsky looked up at the screen as the Rev. Richard Hawke said the murders of his daughter and granddaughters were the "most difficult experience I have lived through." He asked Komisarjevsky, "Was it worth the price?"

Hawke said he resented Komisarjevsky's defense team questioning the motives of his family wearing Petit Family Foundation pins during the trial.

Hawke told Komisarjevsky he tainted his family's proud name.

"Now, you are a prison number listed in the book of death. You are now in God's hands."

Hawke said he and his wife did not attend the sentencing because they have suffered financial loss attending the 131 days of both trials. Hawke lives in Pennsylvania and Florida during the winter.

William Petit Sr., father of Dr. William Petit Jr., addressed the court in person. He recalled living through the fateful day of July 23, 2007.

Through tears, he recounted the chaotic scene at his son's home, where police and emergency officials were everywhere.

"My heart sank," he said, when he realized that something was horribly wrong there.

Family members seated in the gallery wept as Petit described in detail seeing his seriously wounded son in the hospital. His son asked how Hawke-Petit and his granddaughters were.

"We were all sobbing and could only shake our heads from side to side," Petit said. "We held hands and said the Lord's Prayer."

Johanna Petit Chapman, with her brother _ the attack's lone survivor _ sitting beside her, said her family's love and support and the help of friends have helped them through the ordeal.

Petit Chapman shook as she read a letter Hawke-Petit wrote to her before her death in which Hawke-Petit thanked her for being like a sister.

Petit Chapman spoke tough about defense attorneys' claims Komisarjevsky did not rape Michaela and how the defense took them to task each day for wearing the foundation pins.

"We are the victims," she said. "We did not choose to be in courtroom 6A."

She scoffed at Komisarjevsky's claims that Hayes escalated the crime. She said Komisarjevsky set the tone by brutally beating her brother with a baseball bat at the start of the hours-long home invasion.

"He'll be damned to hell and that's where he belongs," she said.

A jury on Dec. 9 decided Komisarjevsky, 31, should die for sexually assaulting and killing Hawke-Petit and her daughter Michaela, and killing Hayley during the break-in and arson at the family's home.

In December 2010, Komisarjevsky's partner in the crime, Steven Hayes, 47, read a statement at his formal sentencing, saying, "I destroyed innocent lives and took away a family, a family of very good people." He added that he was tormented by what he had done.

Judge Blue then sent Hayes to death row.

In Connecticut, the initial appeal to the state Supreme Court is automatic and mandatory.

It could easily be 20 years or longer before either man is given a lethal injection at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers.

Two of the 10 inmates currently on Connecticut's death row _ convicted killers Robert Breton and Sedrick "Ricky" Cobb _ were sentenced to death in 1989 and 1991, respectively, and have yet to exhaust their appeals and federal habeas motions.

Serial killer Michael Ross spent 18 years on death row before he was executed at his own insistence in 2005.

Jurors in the Komisarjevsky trial rejected weeks of defense evidence that portrayed him as a man damaged by childhood sexual abuse, a strict religious upbringing and longtime mental health issues.

Komisarjevsky was eligible for execution on six capital counts: killing Hawke-Petit and Michaela and Hayley in the course of a single action; killing a child under the age of 16; killing Hawke-Petit in the course of a kidnapping; killing Hayley in the course of a kidnapping; killing Michaela in the course of a kidnapping; and killing Michaela in the course of a sexual assault.

During nearly six weeks of penalty phase testimony, Komisarjevsky's attorneys argued that a series of mitigating factors _ including Komisarjevsky's "significantly impaired" mental capacity and the minor role they say he played in the crime _ warranted a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Defense attorneys presented evidence from mental health experts, friends and family that they said showed that Komisarjevsky suffered from a serious longtime mood disorder, which worsened after Komisarjevsky suffered a series of concussions, took drugs and grew up in an ultra-religious household with parents unwilling to seek psychiatric care for him following sexual abuse and periods of depression.

But the jury found those mitigating circumstances did not outweigh the aggravating factors: that Komisarjevsky committed the murders of Hawke-Petit and her daughters in "an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner" and "knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person."

Komisarjevsky did not testify during the trial and did not give an unsworn statement to the jury. He did speak to the judge without the jury present while voicing his objections to having a video of his 9-year-old daughter played for jurors during the penalty phase. In the 52-minute video, about two minutes was spent talking about Komisarjevsky, whom the girl referred to as "Josh," not as her dad or father.

Komisarjevsky was convicted in October of breaking into the Petit home, beating William Petit, tying up and torturing the family as he and Hayes ransacked the home for cash and valuables, before leaving them to die in the fire.

Testimony during both trials showed that at one point in the break-in, Hayes forced Hawke-Petit to go to the bank to withdraw money. During that time, according to his own confession, Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted Michaela.

When Hawke-Petit and Hayes returned from the bank, Hayes raped and strangled Hawke-Petit. The house and the girls' bodies were doused with gasoline and the home was set on fire as the intruders fled, testimony showed. Hayley and Michaela died of smoke inhalation.

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