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Editor's Notebook: After Week One, Komisarjevsky Trial Setting Up To Be Different Than Hayes Case

September 23, 2011 by John Rook

New Have Superior Court Judge Jon Blue wrapped up testimony in the Joshua Komisarjevsky case early on Thursday. By 12:30 p.m. everyone was out of the courthouse and heading home. Things won't start back up again until Monday.
With the first week down in the trial, it's impossible not to notice how this current case both resembles and differs from the Steven Hayes proceedings from a year ago.
The coverage is the same, with hoards of reporters crowding into the courtroom. Twitter is once again the preferred social media outlet for coverage. Anything happening is being reported in real time, in the least amount of characters possible.
It is also obvious that the Komisarjevsky defense team is approaching this trial the way the Hayes team did: assume the verdict is guilty and set up the defense for the punishment phase. The defense? “I didn't want anything to get out of hand. It was the other guy who was blood thirsty.” Again, the same as Hayes.
It's clear that 12 months didn't do much to dilute the graphic nature of this case. The family, though they have lived with the particulars of what happened on that fateful July night in 2007, when Hayes and Komisarjevsky allegedly broke into the home of the Petit family in Cheshire, beat Dr. William Petit with a baseball bat, held Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her teenage daughters, Hayley and Michaela, hostage, extorted money from them, then killed them to cover up the evidence (while burning down the house), hearing it repeated has not numbed them. The tears have flowed, and the jury has responded in kind.
There are, however, some major differences from the last go-around.
First, the defense team is much more aggressive than previously. While the attorneys representing Steven Hayes didn't distinguish themselves, those who are defending Komisarjevsky are unafraid to go after anyone and everyone. They have made it a point to attack Judge Jon Blue throughout the proceedings, trying initially to get him thrown off the trial because of what they deemed to be his unfair handling of the first case against Hayes and, most recently, asked for a mistrial because of Blue's insistence that testimony be stopped on Wednesday because a juror, as he put it, “was having a hard time” with portions of the evidence being presented. That, in the defense's mind, could prejudice the jury.
Komisarjevsky's lawyers haven't been bashful about going after the Petit family, either. It started even before proceedings began, during the Hayes trial, when attorney Jeremiah Donovan, the most vocal of Komisarjevsky's defense team, complained that Petit was holding “press conferences” after court sessions and that court-issued gag order should prevent it. Since proceedings began, they have complained about family members describing their client as “pure evil,” and, in the last few days, have expressed outrage over family members wearing remembrance pins of the murdered family members in the courtroom. It is a much more in-you-face tone being set this time around, and it certainly isn't winning the lawyers any friends.
Second, the defendant is different. Hayes looked the part of a career criminal. He was big, gruff, and had a background one would expect from a man accused of a triple homicide — drug addict and petty thief.
Komisarjevsky is anything but. He is young looking (one member of the public in the courtroom on the second day of testimony admitted he looked like a teenager) with short hair and an almost boy-next-door quality. He didn't grow up with severe drug problems but, rather, in Cheshire in a middle class family. If you were casting, Hayes would be the villain, not Komisarjevsky.
The final thing that obviously separates this trial from Hayes' is the recorded testimony given by Komisarjevsky right after he was apprehended in July 2007. It is a detailed blow-by-blow of what happened, or at least what Komisarjevsky claims happened.
Two things stand out from the recordings: one, the testimony of his sexual assault on 11-year-old Michaela Petit is shocking and disturbing, so much so that the entire courtroom this week was thrown into stunned silence as the tapes were played. Two, Komisarjevsky reportedly gives a “matter of fact” account of the events of the night, offering little in the way of emotion, even though he claims on the recordings, as he still does now, that he never wanted anyone to die.
Some may assume that Komisarjevsky will follow right in the footsteps of his accomplice and join Hayes on death row. Don't be so sure.
Looking the part can go a long way in cases like this. Hayes couldn't help but remind people of the guy walking along the sidewalk at night that makes you cross to the other side. Komisarjevsky might remind people of their favorite nephew, or the friend of their son. If just one person on that jury decides Komisarjevsky looks too innocent to have meant for anyone to die, and it must have been that big, nasty-looking Hayes who drove things over the edge, the prosecution's effort to secure the death penalty will go up in flames.
What is painfully obvious, though, is that Komisarjevsky, besides being a low-life thief, was also a sexual degenerate. On the recorded tapes, he talks about Michaela Petit frequently, how he was impressed with her calm demeanor, how he spoke with her often over the course of the evening, visiting her in her room on several occasions to “check on her” and then, ultimately, sexually assaulting her the first moment he had a chance. This deviant behavior should call into question any assertions on his part that he simply wanted to “get the money and go” and did not want anything to escalate. It was he who beat Dr. William Petit over the head with a bat. It was he who sent Hayes out to get gasoline, and then to take Hawke-Petit to withdraw money. It was he who manipulated the circumstances to be alone with an 11-year old girl in order to molest her. The idea that, somewhere, Komisarjevsky was willing to draw a line seems so absurd as to defy logic. The notion that he was appalled at the idea of killing the women, one off whom he had just violated, would be laughable if the circumstances were not so horrible to begin with.
Unfortunately, this charade is only five days old and promises to last for weeks. Hopefully, the jury isn't inclined to buy such a feeble story.

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