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Dr. William Petit took to the witness stand Tuesday in New Haven Superior Court and provided chilling details about the home invasion that left his wife and two daughters dead.
Petit, who is the victim and also a witness to the crime, said that on July 22, 2007, the day before the murders, his family had dinner together and finished eating around 9 p.m. He recalled going into another room to read, as his wife and two daughters wanted to watch television. He eventually fell asleep reading on the couch and was awakened when Joshua Komisarjevsky allegedly assaulted him with a baseball bat. Petit, who was on blood thinner medication at the time, was bleeding profusely from the wounds on his head and was eventually tied up in the basement. His hands and feet were bound and a rope was tied around his waist and chest to a pole in the basement, according to his testimony.
Petit stated that he heard his wife tell the men that she needed to get dressed if they wanted to go to the bank to withdraw money. Petit added that the men were asking about a safe in the home, and he was assured that no one would get hurt if they gave them what they wanted. One of the men was carrying a gun, he said. He didn't have an exact sense of time, but felt it was in the early morning when he was moved to the basement, as he heard birds chirping. The home invasion allegedly took place between 3 a.m and 10 a.m.
After being in the basement for hours and losing a tremendous amount of blood, Petit testified that someone told him not to worry, that “it'd all be over soon,” in a tone that sounded sinister to him. He eventually freed himself from the pole, but realized he could not take on both men at once. He thought if he could sneak out the back door and go get a neighbor, they could get help for the rest of his family. With his feet still bound together, he hopped up the cellar stairs and moved from his home towards his neighbor’s house. When he tripped and fell, he rolled up the driveway and began banging on the garage door. Within a moment, a Cheshire police officer, later identified as Thomas Wright, was on scene asking who was left in the home. "The girls," he responded.
It was the second day of testimony in the highly publicized trial of Steven Hayes who, along with Komisarjevsky, is being charged with the murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, on July 23, 2007.
Petit's testimony on Tuesday followed a busy first day of witness questioning, that began more than three years after the crimes took place.
Former Cheshire Bank of America Manager Mary Lyons broke down on the witness stand on Monday afternoon when she recounted the morning of July 23, 2007. It was that morning, at approximately 9 a.m., when Jennifer Hawke-Petit entered the Bank of America on Highland Avenue to withdraw $15,000 in cash. She did not have identification on her and, under normal circumstances, the customer would be turned away. However, this wasn't any normal withdrawal. Hawke-Petit had previously told a bank teller that she needed the money because her family was being held hostage. Lyons said Hawke-Petit pulled out her wallet, said her license and credit cards were taken, but she needed the money and needed it quickly. In her wallet were photos of her two daughters. Lyons, whose eyes became watery and whose voice began to crack, said she believed the woman.
"She seemed quite calm and, to me, very brave," Lyons said. "I knew she was telling the truth. I had to give her the money and let her go out of the bank."
Courtroom 6A in New Haven Superior Court was filled to capacity with members of the Petit and Hawke families, as well as droves of reporters. Family members and supporters wore small heart-shaped pins of the Petit Family Foundation on their jackets or blouses, and many wore wristbands with the phrase "be the change" on them, another show of support for the Petit and Hawke families.
Jurors were sworn in on Monday and given instruction, and both the prosecution and defense gave opening statements before the first witness was called.
New Haven Chief Public Defender Thomas Ullmann, who is defending Hayes, told the court in his opening statements that his client had intentions to break into the Petit home, tie up the family, and rob them of their possessions. He said there were certain "knowns and unknowns" in the case, and a “known” is that his client sexually assaulted and then killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit. However, Ullmann stated that, originally, "no one was supposed to get hurt."
"When (Hayes) was apprehended he told (Cheshire) Detective Joe Vitello that things got 'way out of control,'" Ullmann said. "I hope I don't sound callous or indifferent. I am profoundly sad by these events."
According to Ullmann's opening statements, which Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue told jurors could not be treated as evidence or testimony, Komisarjevsky and Hayes planned to enter the Petit home to steal from the family. Komisarjevsky snuck into the home through an unlocked basement door as Hayes waited outside. Komisarjevsky then assaulted Petit with a baseball bat and went to let Hayes into the Petit's Sorghum Mill Drive home. What was supposed to be a robbery turned into something more when the two men saw a bank book and noticed a large sum of money in the Petit's account, Ullmann said. Hayes took Hawke-Petit to the bank to withdraw $15,000 while, back at the home, Ullmann alleges that Komisarjevsky was sexually assaulting Michaela Petit. When Hayes and Hawke-Petit returned from the bank, Ullmann acknowledged that Hayes raped and strangled Hawke-Petit. The house was then set on fire, with the two Petit girls tied to their beds upstairs. Hawke-Petit was dead before the house was set ablaze while her two daughters died of smoke inhalation. Both men were arrested fleeing the Petit home in the family's SUV, after crashing through a roadblock Cheshire Police had set up down the street.
"We concede much, but not all," Ullmann told the jury.
New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington gave a brief opening statement, suggesting that he would let the evidence “speak for itself.”
"I suspect many of you wish that the events that brought you here today never happened," Dearington said. "You may hear incomprehensible, indescribable testimony about these events."
Hayes sat between his two attorneys wearing brown slacks and a tucked-in olive shirt with black and white stripes on Monday. He did not wear a belt. Hayes has lost considerable weight since his arrest more than three years ago, and no longer has a completely shaved head. He did not speak, only occasionally whispering something to his attorney. He often fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair and barely made eye contact with witnesses or jurors.
Most of Monday's testimony revolved around events that took place at the bank on the morning of July 23, 2007, with the bank teller who was first approached by Hawke-Petit describing her as having “shaky” hands, yet not appearing to be “overly anxious.” The teller also testified that, after Hawke-Petit left the bank, she went to a window to peer out and saw Hawke-Petit get into a vehicle driven by a white male, whose face she could not make out.
Officer Wright also testified. A member of the department's Special Response Team, Wright was also one of the first officers on scene. He went through the Department's procedures and acknowledged calling in an ambulance for Petit after seeing his severe head injuries. Petit told him "the girls" were inside the home but, when he tried to enter there were “floor to ceiling flames” and he did not have fire protection gear. Shortly after, the Cheshire Fire Department was on scene and eventually extinguished the blaze.
Juror replacement has also been a common theme over the first few days of the trial, as three original jurors were allowed to retire from the case on day one and another juror was replaced on day two, after an odd exchange with Blue and attorneys, where the juror questioned the direction of the state's case and stated that he was “bewildered” by the state's “fumbling” in its presentation.
Testimony and evidence is expected to take three weeks to complete, Blue estimated.
After all witnesses are questioned and both the prosecution and defense rests, it will be up to the jury to render a verdict.
Hayes, along with Komisarjevsky, faces the death penalty if found guilty.