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William Petit, Dad of Murdered Family, Reacts to Connecticut Death Penalty Ruling

Connecticut Supreme Court Rules Death Penalty Unconstitutional 1:40

It was a crime of epic cruelty, and the culprits were sentenced to pay the ultimate price.

But a decision by Connecticut's highest court means the two men who carried out the chilling Petit family murders will be spared execution, along with nine other death-row inmates.

Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky now get life sentences for a 2007 home invasion robbery in which they raped and strangled Jennifer Petit, tied her daughters Hayley and Michaela to their beds, and set the home ablaze.

Petit's sister, Cynthia Hawke Renn, told NBC News that she is "disheartened" by the Connecticut Supreme Court's finding that a 2012 legislative repeal of the death penalty should also apply to those who committed their crimes earlier.

"I really do think that cruel and unusual crimes really do deserve cruel and unusual punishment," she said.

"For people who commit such heinous and horrific crimes — when you torture and rape them and their children, douse them with gasoline and burn them alive — is there not something that should be worse?

"Shouldn’t there be a worse punishment out there for someone who takes a life in such a cruel and unusual way?"

Image: Steven Hayes
Steven Hayes. Connecticut State Police / AP file

Jennifer Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit, who was beaten during the siege but escaped to call for help, had fought against the 2012 repeal of the death penalty. He noted in a statement Thursday that the court was divided in its ruling.

"The dissenting justices clearly state how the four members of the majority have disregarded keystones of our government structure such as the separation of powers and the role of judicial precedent to reach the decision they hand down today.

"The death penalty and its application is a highly charged topic with profound emotional impact, particularly on their victims and their loved ones."

Image: Joshua Komisarjevsky
Joshua Komisarjevsky. Connecticut State Police / AP file

Connecticut's death row includes killers who have been there since 1989. The latest addition is Richard Roszkowski, who was sentenced last year, after legislative repeal, but was still eligible because the crime occurred in 2006.

He was convicted of killing a former neighbor, Holly Flannery, her 9-year-old daughter Kylie and a landscaper, Thomas Gaudet.

Kylie's grandmother, Flo Tipke, said the court ruling was a blow.

"We went through two trials and now it kind of feels like it was a huge waste of time and money," she said. "We're very sad. We feel that the way he murdered our grandchild and our daughter-in-law was cruel and heinous and I don't feel any punishment they could have given him would be too cruel or heinous."

Mary Jo Gellenbeck — whose sister Diana was kidnapped and killed by another death-row prisoner, Daniel Webb — said she favors Thursday's ruling.

"I don't support the death penalty so I'm happy to see that Connecticut is moving in the direction of eliminating that," she said.

Gellenbeck said her opposition to capital punishment stems in part from the danger that someone innocent could be put to death, though she is certain Webb murdered her sister.

"I think David Webb is a danger to society," she said. "But if he is behind bars without parole, it's what everybody wants."