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Prosecution expected to rest case in Connecticut home-invasion deaths

October 3, 2011 |  8:28 am

 Hawke-Petit home
After two weeks of often chilling testimony, graphic crime-scene photographs and a failed mistrial motion by the defense, prosecutors were expected to rest their case Monday in the proceedings against a career criminal charged in a home invasion that left a mother and her two daughters dead.

Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, is one of two men charged in the sensational 2007 crime in the quiet Connecticut suburb of Cheshire, and his trial has proved as dramatic and unsettling as that of his co-defendant, Steve Hayes.

Hayes, 47, was convicted and sentenced to death last year for breaking into the home of the Hawke-Petit family and killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17. Read an account of Hayes' trial here. Only William Petit, Jennifer Hawke-Petit's husband and the girls' father, survived after being beaten unconscious with a baseball bat.

Much of the testimony in Komisarjevsky's trial last week focused on Komisarjevsky's sexual assault of Michaela, which he admitted to during a taped confession to police that was played to jurors. At one point in last week's proceedings, during testimony about autopsies performed on the victims, several family members got up and left the courtroom, prompting the defense to call for a mistrial.

"They left en masse," defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan said, according to this report in the Hartford Courant. "It seems ... so prejudicial to my client." Noting that jurors watched the relatives leave the court, Donovan also asked Judge Jon Blue to ban them from "any stunts like that again," the newspaper reported.

Blue rejected the motion. Later, Jennifer Hawke-Petit's sister, Johanna Petit Chapman, said that after having to identify her nieces' bodies after their July 2007 deaths, she and other relatives did not feel they could endure hearing testimony about the autopsies. "Clearly it wasn't a stunt," the Courant quoted her as saying.

It wasn't the first time tensions have flared between the victims' relatives and Donovan, who has said his client never wanted to kill anyone and was dragged into the crime by Hayes. On Sept. 19, when opening statements were delivered, Donovan referred to the more than two dozen relatives of the victims who came to court as the "Petit posse."

Investigators last week testified that both girls died of smoke inhalation after the house was doused in gasoline and set ablaze as they lay tied to their beds. Their mother was already dead, having been raped and strangled after being forced to drive to a bank with Hayes and withdraw $15,000 for the men -- an event caught on video and replayed for jurors.


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-- Tina Susman in New York

Photo:  One of the rooms in the burned-out Connecticut home is shown. Credit: Connecticut Judicial Branch / Associated Press