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The second week of testimony in the trial of accused killer Joshua Komisarjevsky was perhaps the most brutal yet. That's because the prosecution called several expert witnesses to the stand over a period of days to explain how the three Petit women — Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11 — died during the deadly home invasion on July 23, 2007.
State medical examiners went over the autopsies of the women, explaining in detail what happened to them that night. There was also testimony from police and fire personnel about the intensity of the fire that engulfed the home after Komisarjevsky and his accomplice Steven Hayes fled in the family's SUV. One can only imagine what must be going through the minds of the jurors at this point. These are regular people who, by all accounts, lead very normal lives. They are now in a situation where, each day, they are subjected to the most vile photographs and disturbing facts in regards to a murder. It has to be taking its toll. You would imagine that, by now, many of them wish they had been excused during the voir dire process.
It may seem like overkill on the part of the prosecution, going through each piece of evidence with excruciating deliberateness. However, that's their job. They do not want to leave any stone unturned. When the judge mentions the phrase “reasonable doubt,” that is what the prosecution is trying to destroy. They don't want there to be any reasonable doubt and, in order to do that, they must take the jury by the proverbial hand and guide them through each part of that night. Some of it might be tedious, such as the hours spent on video showing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughter Michaela shopping at the local Stop & Shop the night before the murders. Other times, it has involved evidence so unimaginable, so disturbing, it makes one squirm to even think of it.
That's the job of the prosecution.
Komisarjevsky's team is charged with something entirely different: try to throw cold water on the prosecution's premise that their client was essentially the mastermind of the crime and just as responsible for the death of the three women's as Hayes.
There are two ways one can do that: battle against the evidence or play courtroom games that serve no purpose other than to take the jury's eye off the ball. Their attempt at the former has been, let's just say, less than impressive, but, in fairness, it's hard to imagine how they could do much better. Their client admits to beating Dr. William Petit with a baseball bat, taking the family hostage, sexually assaulting 11-year old Michaela, taking pictures of her, and standing by as Jennifer Hawke-Petit was raped and strangled by Hayes. Even for the most skilled of attorneys, getting a jury to believe that a man could do all of that but would then draw some sort of moral line in the sand when it came to murder would be a tough sell.
However, this week the defense yet again proved that it's goal is to take the focus off their client and put it on something else. Anything else. Even the family of the victim.
Coming into the trial it was believed that Komisarjevsky's lawyers would be more aggressive than the team that defended Hayes. In a recent article in The Cheshire Herald, local attorney Hugh Keefe predicted the defense would even go after the Petit family, if it felt it served their needs. It's still hard to imagine how such tactics ultimately do help Komisarjevsky, but there is no doubt his team has employed them.
Since the beginning of the trial, the defense has objected to almost every movement of the Petit family and, specifically, Dr. William Petit. They complained about comments made by the Petit family to the media. Complained about the family wearing pins in support of the Petit Foundation. And, this week, in an effort to find a new low, called for a mistrial because some family members, including Dr. Petit, left the courtroom when the prosecution began discussing the specifics of the autopsy reports on his wife and two children.
Komisarjevsky's lawyers called it a “stunt” and called on Judge Jon Blue to call an end to the proceedings.
Arguing why it's appropriate, and far from a stunt, for family members to leave the courtroom before such difficult testimony would only lend credibility to the defense's motion. It is such an inane comment, such an obvious attempt to cast blame somewhere else, that no one truly needs to respond. It does, however, crystalize that this defense team is in no way sympathetic to the grief of the family of the deceased. If they were, they wouldn't suggest that leaving at that time was a “stunt.” Dr. William Petit and his family are not people to the defense, owed some modicum of respect for what they have endured, but rather an obstacle to be overcome and a prop to be used when convenient. If this adds to the family's heartache, so be it. They have an obligation to their client, which evidently absolves them from any responsibility to be decent human beings.
How effective these tactics will be is anyone's guess. However, when this is over, one wonders whether the men charged with defending Komisarjevsky will feel as if they sold a small part of their soul in the name of a “rigorous defense.”