Image: Petit family
William Petit via AP
William and Jennifer Petit are seen with daughters Michaela, front,  and Hayley in June 2007 on Cape Cod, Mass.
updated 10/5/2010 12:51:07 PM ET 2010-10-05T16:51:07

A paroled burglar was convicted Tuesday of killing a mother and her two daughters in a 2007 home invasion in an affluent Connecticut town and faces the possibility of being sentenced to death.

Steven Hayes, 47, was convicted of capital felony, murder, sexual assault and other counts by a jury that heard eight days of gruesome testimony about the July 2007 attacks on Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela.

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The sole survivor, Dr. William Petit, appeared to hold back tears as the verdict was read. His head down, he sucked in his bottom lip.

"We did our best to keep our faith in God that justice would be served," Petit said afterward, adding he hoped jurors would use "the same diligence and clarity of thought" as they consider the penalty phase.

"There is some relief but my family is still gone," Petit said, his father and other relatives clutching him. "It doesn't bring them back. It doesn't bring back the house that we had."

The verdict triggers a second phase of the trial, beginning Oct. 18, in which the same jurors will decide if Hayes should be executed or face life in prison.

Hayes' defense admitted his involvement in the fatal home invasion but blamed his co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, for being the aggressor. Komisarjevsky faces trial next year and also could be sentenced to death.

Komisarjevsky spotted the mother and her two daughters at a supermarket, followed them to their Cheshire home, then returned later with Hayes, authorities say.

The men broke into the Petit house in the New Haven suburb of Cheshire, beat William Petit with a baseball bat and forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw money from a bank before raping and strangling her, according to testimony. The men, both paroled burglars who met at a halfway house, tied the girls to their beds, put pillow cases over their heads and poured gas on or around them before setting the house on fire, authorities say.

The girls died of smoke inhalation. Authorities say the men were caught fleeing the scene.

Hayes' attorneys conceded most of the evidence on the first day and spent much of the trial focusing on Komisarjevsky's role. They pointed to graphic photos of Michaela found on Komisarjevsky's cell phone, and Hayes' attorney, Tom Ullmann, said Komisarjevsky escalated the violence at every critical point, starting with William Petit's beating.

Video: Relief, 'but my family is still gone' (on this page)

Prosecutors rejected that argument, saying the two men were equally responsible for the crime.

The jurors' deliberations totaled about five hours. Hayes was convicted of 16 counts total, including two charges of sexually assaulting Hawke-Petit. He was acquitted of one count — arson.

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On Monday, the jury had asked for a definition of starting a fire and whether pouring gasoline was considered starting a fire.

Judge Jon Blue said pouring gas was not considered starting a fire and referred to his instructions in which he told the jury that the striking of a match can be the start of a fire. The jurors must conclude Hayes started the fire, the judge told them in his instructions.

A prison officer testified Thursday that he overheard a conversation in which Hayes told another inmate that he poured gasoline on the stairs but didn't believe he could be charged with arson because he didn't light it.

Prosecutors said in their closing arguments that evidence suggested Hayes lit the fire because he was the last one out of the house.

Earlier, the jury asked to hear a confession state police say Hayes gave to a detective. After the judge said it would take about 45 minutes, the jury decided not to hear the testimony again.

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Video: Home-invasion killer could  face execution