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Life or death? Jury mulls fate of Conn. home invasion killer

The jury that convicted a man of killing a woman and her two daughters during a night of terror in their home is now weighing whether he should be executed.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A former boss of the man convicted in a fatal home invasion testified Monday he was a good worker, but she was frightened by his co-defendant, whom she described as looking like "the devil."

Christiane Gehami took the stand Monday in New Haven Superior Court, where a jury is considering whether to give Steven Hayes the death penalty or life in prison. He was convicted nearly two weeks ago of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, at their home in Cheshire in 2007.

The defense has tried to show Hayes was influenced by drug addiction and his co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, who still awaits trial.

Gehami said Hayes worked at her West Hartford restaurant and did handyman work. When he brought Komisarjevsky in to talk about a carpentry job, "I just stopped dead in my tracks. I thought I was looking at the devil," she said. "My skin crawled."

She said she told the men she didn't need the work done right away.

When a prosecutor asked on cross-examination what she meant, Gehami said Komisarjevsky had "dead eyes. Completely dead eyes."

She said Hayes showed a good sense of humor when he worked for her and once tried to intervene to protect her after she got into a verbal argument with another worker.

Hayes' public defender, Patrick Culligan, said in his opening statement he would show Hayes had a drug addiction that controlled his life.

"That's because many of his life choices revolved around his desire and need to satisfy and fuel his drug addiction," Culligan said.

Culligan said he would present evidence of Komisarjevsky's role in planning and carrying out the home invasion, including what Komisarjevsky told the author of a book who interviewed him in prison.

The defense has blamed Komisarjevsky for escalating what had been planned as a burglary in which they would tie up the victims. Prosecutors rejected that argument, saying they both were equally responsible for the crime.

The first defense witness, D'Arcy Lovetere, a former court employee and investigator from Hayes' hometown, said Hayes had a nonviolent criminal past and was "a follower." She also called him a "klutz."

"He wasn't the best criminal in the world," Lovetere said. "He would do things that were really foolish that you knew he'd get caught."

Hayes was remorseful and desperately wanted help to overcome his addiction to crack cocaine, Lovetere said.

The prosecution rested its case Monday after calling a court clerk to describe Hayes' long record of burglary convictions. Prosecutor Michael Dearington said the jurors had already heard the gruesome nature of the attacks.

Authorities said Hayes and Komisarjevsky broke into the house, beat Dr. William Petit and forced his wife to withdraw money from a bank before Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled her. Their daughters were tied to their beds before the house was set ablaze.

The crime drew comparisons to "In Cold Blood," Truman Capote's chilling book about the 1959 murders of a Kansas family, and prompted more Cheshire residents to get guns. It also led to tougher laws for repeat offenders and home invasions, and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell cited the case when she vetoed a bill that would have abolished the death penalty.

Connecticut has executed only one person since 1960. Serial killer Michael Ross was put to death by lethal injection in 2005.

But some Cheshire residents told Connecticut NBC station WVIT-TV in no uncertain terms that they believe a death sentence fits the crime.

"I think death should be a right decision for both of them," Vilan Kosover said, predicting that the jury would choose execution. Paul Paniccia added: "I, for one, will be disgraced and disgusted if the death penalty is not given on this disgrace of a human."

Komisarjevsky spotted the mother and her two daughters at a supermarket, followed them to their home, then returned later with Hayes, according to authorities. The men were caught fleeing the scene, they said.

Jurors heard eight days of gruesome testimony, saw photos of the victims, charred beds, rope, ripped clothing and ransacked rooms. They deliberated for five hours over two days.

Hayes was convicted of six capital felony charges, three murder counts and two charges of sexually assaulting Hawke-Petit. The capital offenses were for killing two or more people, the killing of a person under 16, murder in the course of a sexual assault and three counts of intentionally causing a death during a kidnapping.