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Killer on death row: 'It's a very surreal experience'

The man convicted in the 2007 attack on a Connecticut family says that he suffers no nightmares and has nothing to say to the only survivor of the attack.
Image: Joshua Komisarjevsky, charged in a deadly 2007 home invasion in Cheshire, Conn. is shown in this July 23, 2007 photo.
Joshua Komisarjevsky, who is on death row in Connecticut for the 2007 rape and murder of a woman and her two daughters in their Cheshire, Conn., home, as seen after his arrest. The state has since ended the death penalty, but the change does not apply to cases tried in the past.Connecticut State Police via AP, file
/ Source: The Associated Press

SOMERS, Conn. — The Connecticut killer who once called himself one of the most hated men in America said in a death row interview that he tries not to think about the murder of a suburban mother and her two daughters, suffers no nightmares and has nothing to say to the only survivor of the brutal 2007 attack.

Joshua Komisarjevsky told The Associated Press in his first interview since he was convicted that there isn't anything he could say to William Petit "that will restore the lives lost."

He also declined an opportunity to express remorse for the killings.

"I guess my reaction is not the reaction society expected," Komisarjevsky said.

Wearing a yellow prison jumpsuit, Komisarjevsky kept direct eye contact during the one-hour interview Monday, smiling at times as he spoke by telephone from behind a glass window at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Conn.

He had the same short hair and facial stubble that he had during the trial, but the once-slender inmate has since put on 30 or 40 pounds, which he blamed on depression and lack of movement. He said he agreed to speak to a reporter out of curiosity.

By turns jovial and introspective, he made references to an afflicted conscience but said he fills his time in solitary confinement by drawing, watching television and reading and responding to hate mail as well as notes from supporters.

"Some days you're just overwhelmed by the isolation and the difficulties in communicating with loved ones, dealing with your own crisis of conscience," Komisarjevsky said.

Komisarjevsky, 31, was convicted last year in a crime that unsettled notions of suburban safety and featured prominently in Connecticut's death penalty debate.

He and his co-defendant, Steven Hayes, were convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters. Hayes raped and strangled Hawke-Petit, while Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted her 11-year-old daughter, Michaela. Michaela and her 17-year-old sister, Hayley, were tied to their beds and died of smoke inhalation after the house was doused in gas and set on fire.

Death penalty ended for future cases
Last month, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a new law that ends the state's death penalty for future crimes, but it does not apply to those already on death row. Many had insisted that the death penalty remain for previous cases so that Komisarjevsky and Hayes would not be spared.

"In order for some to swallow this bitter pill, it was inevitable that we would be left out," Komisarjevsky said.

In the last half-century, Connecticut has executed only one inmate -- serial killer Michael Ross, who was put to death in 2005 after voluntarily waiving his appeals.

"I don't think I'll be executed against my will," Komisarjevsky said. "I think if I volunteer the state will execute me."

Asked if would consider volunteering, Komisarjevsky said, "I have my days. I think everybody on death row has their days. Some days you'd consider it. Some days you don't."

Still, he said he feels a responsibility to supporters, saying they would be hurt by his execution. He said his parents and a few friends visit him in prison.

"The reality of my situation is that I'm going to die in prison," he said. "It's simply a matter of what age. It's a very surreal experience to be judged so worthless that society wants you dead."

Asked if he is remorseful, he did not offer a direct answer. He said he has trouble expressing emotion.

"I like everyone else has to get up every day and look in the mirror," Komisarjevsky said.

Komisarjevksy said he has not spoken to Hayes, but has seen him passing by on death row, where a total of 11 inmates are each held in individual cells. During separate trials, Komisarjevksy and Hayes each blamed the other for escalating the crime.

'I try really hard not to think about it'
"Frankly, we don't have anything to talk about," Komisarjevsky said. "I'm sort of taking the stance let bygones be bygones. I know what I'm culpable for and he knows what he's culpable for."

For the interview, Komisarjevsky was escorted into a room where his handcuffs were removed through a slot in the door.

"I try really hard not to think about it," Komisarjevsky said of the crime.

Among the ways he occupies his time is by drawing. He said one depicts a biblical scene of Daniel in the Lion's Den that he did for a friend.

Komisarjevsky said he gets two hours per day of recreation time, but he has a television in his cell that gets several channels including the Spanish-language network Telemundo.

"No hablo espanol, so that doesn't do me much good," Komisarjevsky said with a laugh.

Komisarjevsky declined to comment directly about the crime, citing the advice of lawyers who are expected to file an appeal.

In an audiotaped confession played for the jury in his trial last year, Komisarjevsky admitted that he spotted Hawke-Petit and 11-year-old Michaela at a supermarket and followed them to their house in Cheshire, a suburb of New Haven. After going home and putting his own daughter to bed, Komisarjevsky and Hayes returned to the Petit house in the middle of the night, while the family was sleeping, to rob it.

William Petit was beaten, tied up and taken to the basement. He managed to escape and hop, roll and crawl across a yard to a neighbor's house for help.

Petit advocated keeping the death penalty in Connecticut and last year successfully lobbied state senators to hold off on repeal legislation while Komisarjevsky was still facing a death penalty trial.

Petit declined to comment through a spokesman.

"July 23, 2007, was our personal holocaust," Petit said after Komisarjevsky was sentenced to death. "A holocaust caused by two who are completely evil and actually do not comprehend what they have done."