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Lawyers for convicted murderer Steven Hayes, having been denied their request to delay their client's sentencing, filed another motion in New Haven Superior Court seeking a new trial and penalty phase because of errors they claim were committed during the trial.
The motion filed by the defense seeks a new trial, a new penalty phase, and/or changing the verdict from a death sentence to life in prison without parole. A 12-member jury convicted Hayes of capital felony on Nov. 8 and sentenced him to death on all six possible capital counts. Previously, Hayes was found guilty of 16 counts on Oct. 5 and had faced only two possible outcomes: life in prison without parole or death by lethal injection.
However, the defense team of Thomas Ullmann and Patrick Culligan stated in a motion filed last week that Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue committed errors during the trial and the jury was influenced by emotion when deciding Hayes' fate. They contest the jurors reached their verdict with "passion and prejudice." Dr. William Petit, the lone survivor of the home invasion that left his wife and two daughters dead, was a daily presence in the courtroom, and was accompanied by members of his family, something the defense felt was uncommon.
"It is unprecedented that the Petit family was given a gathering room in the courthouse during the trial proceedings. Counsel is unaware of any other victims' families given this accommodation," the motion states. "The first two rows of seats were set aside for the Petit family. Counsel has never seen such an accommodation in 30 years of being trial lawyers."
They noted that a double-murder trial was occurring just a floor below courtroom 6A in New Haven Superior Court, during the Hayes trial, and "no such accommodations" were made for those family members.
The defense also cites the "extent and depth of negative publicity" around the trial, calling the coverage "unrelenting" that led to a "circus atmosphere," which they claim impacted Hayes' right to a fair trial. The defense also questions how the jurors reached their verdict, by facts and evidence, or by emotion, based on interviews and statements made following the trial.
"Juror's post-verdict interviews with the media raise the troubling concern of juror impropriety in that individual decisions were based on impermissible emotional factors," the defense motion states.
The motion goes on in an attempt to support that claim with multiple bullet points, including that "somehow immediately following the verdict," as many as six jurors met with Petit and his family in the courthouse basement, and six jurors appeared on morning news shows in New York wearing Petit Family Foundation pins. Some comments jurors made to the media following the verdict were included in the motion, such as one juror's statement about having a 10-year-old daughter and having a recurring nightmare about an 11-year-old girl who is screaming for help, yet he was always unable to save her. Michaela Petit was 11 years old when she was murdered on July 23, 2007.
The defense claims the "extraordinary step" of opening the courthouse for the weekend for deliberations, to which the defense objected. Also, some members of the media had guaranteed seating for the trial and were given access to trial exhibits, which could be posted online immediately. The defense also took aim at reporters in the courtroom who were using the social media Web site Twitter to send out messages in real-time throughout the trial. The defense claims there are some 140,000 tweets from the trial and many described juror reactions and tried to describe the mood of the courtroom. Jurors were unable to avoid the "media blitz" of cameras, reporters, and microphones outside of the courthouse as they arrived and left each day, the defense claims, and the public outcry, as well as the voice of Petit "demanding a death sentence," also biased the jury, the defense states.
The defense also directed objections at Blue, who they state made errors during the trial, such as excusing a juror who said the prosecution was bumbling with evidence, denying a defense motion to suppress statements Hayes made to a police detective because the interview had not been tape recorded, and the failure to poll the jury on whether they felt Hayes was the principal or accessory in the murders of Hayley and Michaela Petit.
"The defendant requests the court grant 1) a new trial, 2) a new penalty hearing, and/or 3) vacate the jury's penalty hearing findings and impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole," the motion states. "The defendant asserts that the above remedies are required in the interests of justice."
Hayes' lawyers had also filed motions to delay the sentencing until Feb. 2, as they performed a fact-finding mission to ensure Hayes' rights were not violated during the lengthy, and highly publicized trial. However, those motions were denied by Blue last week.