Attorneys for two men charged in a deadly 2007 Connecticut home invasion said Tuesday that their clients have repeatedly offered to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences in prison in hopes of escaping the death penalty.
The attorneys, speaking at a hearing in New Haven Superior Court, said prosecutors have rejected the offer every time and want the death penalty for suspects Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, who have pleaded not guilty to capital felony, murder and other charges.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky are accused of breaking into a doctor's home in an upscale Connecticut suburb, beating him and forcing his wife to withdraw thousands of dollars from a nearby bank before they strangled her. Their daughters died of smoke inhalation from a fire police say the intruders set as they fled.
Both suspects were on parole after serving prison time for burglary. Their trial is scheduled for January.
"We have offered that (guilty plea) in every single status conference, including today, and it's been rejected every single time, so don't blame us," said Hayes' attorney, Thomas Ullmann. "We tried to end this matter."
Defense attorneys said a trial, and appeals if their clients are convicted and sent to Connecticut's death row, would cost millions and expose jurors to post-traumatic stress syndrome after hearing details of the July 23, 2007 crimes.
"It's only the state's insistence that death be the ultimate punishment to cause this case to last as long as it has," said Komisarjevsky's attorney, Jeremiah Donovan.
Holding out for death penalty?
New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington declined to comment in court. The judge has previously barred both sides from talking publicly about the case outside of court. Dearington previously has said he will seek the death penalty.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky are accused of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela. Hawke-Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit, survived.
Gun permit applications in Cheshire, about 14 miles north of New Haven, jumped substantially after the Petits were attacked. The shocking nature of the crimes prompted calls for reform of the state parole system and harsher penalties for people convicted of home invasion. The General Assembly passed new laws that lengthen prison sentences for repeat offenders and felons convicted of home invasion.
William Petit sat in the front row of the courtroom, tapping his foot as he waited for the hearing to begin and glancing over at a door as the defendants entered in orange jumpsuits.
Petit planned to speak in court, but did not after defense attorneys objected. Outside of court, Petit said the defendants should plead guilty and let the court decide what their punishment should be.
"Mr. Ullmann appeared to be making a speech and blaming the D.A. and us for not taking a plea bargain when it was his client who helped kill three innocent people," Petit said.
On suicide watch
The prosecution has been ready with its case since March of 2008, Petit said, but the defense said it needed more time. He also noted the horrors of the crimes against his family, objected to efforts by a defense attorney to contact him and said victims get little financial assistance while the state spends millions of defense costs.
"I would suggest our system is out of kilter and victim's rights are totally abused," Petit said.
Superior Court Judge Richard Damiani and defense attorneys said the trial was proceeding faster than average for cases involving the potential death penalty.
Ullmann said his client has been on suicide watch and that prison officials have been spending a lot of time protecting him "when the objective of this whole process is to kill him in the end."