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On Tuesday morning, Steven Hayes, less than a week removed from offering to plead guilty to the charges against him, withdrew his request by stating in court that he would stay with his original not guilty plea.
A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday morning to discuss Hayes' request to plead guilty, but it became evident that he had changed his mind. Superior Court Judge Jon Blue asked if that were true, and Hayes responded yes when asked if he would plead not guilty. Blue ruled that jury selection would resume later in the day.
Last week, Hayes had offered to plead guilty to the charges against him, however his lawyers opposed the request Monday afternoon. In the court filing, Thomas J. Ullmann and Patrick J. Culligan, the defense team for Hayes, objected to his stunning announcement that he wished to plead guilty. If accepted, Hayes would have skipped the trial portion and gone immediately to the penalty phase, where a three judge panel or a jury would have determined if he would receive the death penalty or life in prison without parole. According to his lawyers, Hayes has indicated a desire to die, as evidenced by his suicide attempt earlier this year and comments he made to a state psychiatrist.
"This would be a solemn and devastating decision for the counsel to make and of great potential harm to Steven Hayes," the lawyers wrote. "We, as his lawyers, are committed to protecting his rights and saving his life. Our obligations are no less."
If the court had accepted the guilty plea, Ullmann and Culligan said they would have withdrawn from the case. While not an ideal solution, they said they would have had no other option.
"We do not think that we can partake in such a stained and sordid process that greases the wheels of the machinery of death for such a diminished, tortured, and suffering human being," they wrote. "When the dignity and respect of the proceedings are controlled by the defendant operating under such obvious diminished mental capacity, given the totality of circumstances, we fear that we may have no other choice."
Hayes, who is scheduled to stand trial for his alleged part in the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley and Michaela, in July of 2007, made the announcement in open court after a competency hearing on his ability to stand trial was waived. Hayes, who originally pleaded not guilty to the litany of charges against him, said it was his wish to plead guilty. However, Tuesday morning, in an about face, Hayes withdrew his request after listening to the advice of his attorneys. In their motion, the defense team argued that while Hayes is competent to stand trial, "he is not decisionally competent to rationally change his pleas from not guilty to guilty."
Both Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky have reportedly offered to plead guilty to the charges against them, if it spared them the death penalty. Those offers were allegedly rejected by the prosecution. Since it is a capital felony case, if the men are found guilty of the charges against them, the only possibilities are life in prison without parole or the death penalty. States Attorney Michael Dearington has repeatedly declined to comment on the case.
Now, Hayes' defense team and state prosecutors will continue the process of selecting a jury for trial, scheduled to begin in September. So far, six jurors have been selected out of the 20 needed.
The jury selection process was halted several times since beginning in January, after Hayes reportedly tried to kill himself by overdosing on medication, which he had stored and hidden away from prison officials for some time. His treatment after the failed suicide attempt also came under scrutiny from his defense team, who called the conditions at the prison infirmary “horrendous.”
Dr. William Petit, who was badly beaten but survived the July 23, 2007 home invasion, issued a statement last week when Hayes announced his intention to plead guilty. Petit called it a moment of honesty.
"The past 32 months of the torturous legal journey since Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela were murdered and I was badly beaten in our own home by two people finally had an honest moment today, but at this moment it is merely another turn in the road," Petit said in a statement after Hayes' apparent decision to plead guilty last week.