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Dr. William Petit pressed, again, for details about home-invasion killings

September 20, 2011 |  2:09 pm

Dr._William_Petit

Dr. William Petit took the witness stand Tuesday to once again recall how two men burst into his Connecticut home in the middle of the night and how, when it was all over, his wife and two young daughters were dead.

Steven Hayes, 48, and Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, were charged with the July 2007 deaths and tried separately. Komisarjevsky's trial is underway; he faces the death penalty if convicted. Hayes has already been convicted for his role in the killings and sentenced to death. 

The men were on parole for burglary when they allegedly forced their way into the Petits' Cheshire home and overpowered the family.

Petit was beaten with a baseball bat. His wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, was forced to go to a bank and withdraw money before Hayes raped and strangled her, authorities say. The girls, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, died of smoke inhalation; gasoline was used to set the house on fire in an apparent bid to destroy evidence.

Defense attorneys acknowledge that Komisarjevsky was in the Petits' home that night, but say he never intended to kill anyone. They accuse Hayes of being the instigator.

As part of his bid to save Komisarjevsky's life, defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan pressed Petit for details Tuesday and questioned whether his recollections could be trusted: “Maybe your mind is playing tricks on you,” he said to Petit.

According to media reports, the defense also hammered the point that Petit did not witness many details firsthand. "You did not see who purchased and poured the gasoline and who lit the match, did you?" Donovan was quoted as asking Petit in this ABC News story. Petit acknowledged he did not.

Petit told the New Haven Superior Court jury that he had been sleeping when he was struck and that he then saw two men standing over him. He said he heard one of them say, “If he moves, put a bullet in him.” Bleeding, he was then tied up and left in the basement, he said.

While there, he said, he heard loud thumping sounds on the floor above, his wife moaning and then a voice saying, “Don't worry, everything will be over in a couple of minutes.”

Petit said he struggled and finally freed his hands, but that his feet remained bound. He said he realized he was in no condition to take on the men -- "I didn't think it would be a good match” -- so he hopped and crawled his way out of the house. He managed to make his way to a neighbor's house to ask for help, but he was too late to save his family.

The case gained, and has kept, national attention because the crimes seemed too horrific to comprehend.

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Jury considers fate of warden's wife who disappeared with killer

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Dr. William Petit navigates the gantlet of media outside New Haven Superior Court this week. Credit: Associated Press / Jessica Hill

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