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Steven Hayes, the man convicted of murdering Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters Hayley and Michaela, was sentenced to death on Monday morning by a jury of his peers.
At around 11:20 a.m. on Monday morning, a knock on the door of the jury deliberation room brought the courtroom to a tensed silence. The jury of seven women and five men had begun deliberations on Friday last week and took the unusual step to hold deliberations on Saturday and Sunday as well. A little more than an hour into the fourth day of deliberations, the jury reached its verdict. With multiple capital felony convictions, the charges were read aloud and announced by the court clerk and jury foreman. Each count, six in total, carried the punishment of lethal injection or life in prison without the possibility of parole. The jury found death was the appropriate punishment on all six counts after 17 hours of deliberations.
Outside of the courtroom, an emotional Dr. William Petit said the verdict did not provide closure, as a hole with "jagged edges" still remains in his heart. He said he was pleased with the verdict and the trial was never about vengeance.
"This isn't about revenge," Petit said. "Vengeance belongs to the Lord. This is about justice."
As the decision was being read by the jury, Petit said all he could think of was his family. He thought of Michaela, who died in her bed surrounded by her stuffed animals, and of Hayley, who had tremendous potential and a bright future. He thought of the family that he raised with the help of his wife, Jennifer.
"I was really thinking of the tremendous loss," he said. "I am sad for the loss we have all suffered."
Petit, who has attended every court hearing with members of his family, said it was important to have loved ones by his side, something he was taught during this ordeal.
"I learned how important it is to have a strong and loving family and friends around you," Petit said. "If I had to go this alone, I wouldn't have made it."
One by one, the court clerk read the charges aloud as everyone in the courtroom focused on the jury box. Hayes, 47, sat quietly and stared straight ahead. For each of the six capital punishment counts, the jury found that death was the appropriate punishment.
On the courthouse steps shortly after the jury reached a decision, Hawke-Petit's father, the Rev. Richard Hawke, said "There are some people who do not deserve to live in God's world."
The jury's decision on Nov. 8 puts to rest an 11-month process that began in January with jury selection. The highly publicized trial attracted hordes of media from across the country, as well as regular citizens who wanted to see the trial firsthand. It was a case that had many twists and turns, from Hayes attempting suicide to suddenly announcing he wished to plead guilty without a plea deal, an offer that his attorneys fought. There were expert witnesses, letters written from family members, and tense back and forth exchanges between the defense and prosecution. Then there was a juror who was excused after stating the prosecution was bumbling with its evidence. Another juror was excused because of the emotional toll the trial was taking on her. Yet another juror was allowed to stay but only after being chastised for passing a note to a courthouse marshal that the judge described as "middle school" in nature. In the end, however, the jury determined that Hayes' crimes were so violent and despicable that the just punishment was death.
Thomas Ullmann, one of Hayes' defense attorneys, said that his client "was thrilled" with the verdict because, from the beginning, he had hoped for suicide by state. He said Hayes got what he wanted and believed the harsher sentence would have been life in prison without parole. Ullmann added that he would be appealing the verdict.
When jury selection began in January, many expressed disbelief that a group of people could be found with no preconceived notions or understanding of the trial that garnered national headlines in 2007. The painstaking task of finding an impartial jury took weeks to complete and hundreds of potential jurors were interviewed. The defense waged a case to save Hayes’ life, but not before acknowledging in opening statements that Hayes raped and strangled Hawke-Petit. The real case began during the penalty phase of the trial following the jury's Oct. 5 conviction of Hayes. The defense tried to portray Hayes as a bumbling, drug-addicted follower who could not get out of his own way. It was co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky, the defense claimed, who escalated the crimes that resulted in the mass violence inside the Petit home.
During the initial phase of the trial, Hayes was found guilty of 16 of 17 counts, with the lone “not guilty” verdict coming in regards to a charge of arson in the family home. Medical experts testified that both Hayley and Michaela had died from smoke inhalation as a result of the fire.
The last person to be executed in Connecticut was serial killer Michael Ross, who was executed in 2005, but only after waging a court battle to put an end to an
appeals process that lasted 18 years.
Last year, the state legislature passed a bill that would have abolished the death penalty, but it was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Politicians who stated their opposition to the death penalty, including Governor-elect Democrat Dan Malloy, have said any future changes to the law, including the abolishment of the death penalty, would not prohibit Hayes or Komisarjevsky, or others currently on death row, from being executed. Hayes will become the tenth person to sit on death row in Connecticut.
Komisarjevsky will be tried next year.