|WAS JURY UNDULY SWAYED BY EMOTION?
“It would be the rare human being to not have nightmares,’’ Judge Jon Blue told defense lawyers for Steven Hayes (left).
Defense challenges death sentence in Conn. slayings
NEW HAVEN — Attorneys for a man condemned to die for a deadly home invasion tried to convince a judge yesterday that the jury was unduly swayed by emotion, but the judge said the jurors’ reactions were natural, given the crime’s “unimaginable horror.’’
Judge Jon Blue heard arguments, but did not immediately rule, on a defense motion challenging the death verdict two weeks ago for Steven Hayes, who was convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters in the 2007 home invasion in Cheshire.
Hayes was convicted of sexually assaulting and strangling the mother, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, after forcing her to withdraw money from a bank. Investigators say Hayes and codefendant Joshua Komisarjevsky tied the girls to their beds and poured gasoline on or around them before setting the house on fire, leaving them to die.
The girls’ father and Hawke-Petit’s husband, Dr. William Petit, was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up, but escaped to a neighbor’s house to get assistance.
Tom Ullmann, Hayes’s lawyer, cited comments by a juror of having persistent nightmares during the trial, during which they heard gruesome testimony and saw photos of the victims, charred beds, rope, ripped clothing, and ransacked rooms.
“It would be the rare human being to not have nightmares,’’ Blue said. “The fact of the matter is your client left in his wake a scene of unimaginable horror. The defense is not entitled to a jury of robots.’’
Blue promised a ruling on the motion, which seeks a new trial or a life sentence, before Hayes’s sentencing Dec. 2. Blue rejected a defense motion challenging Hayes’s assault conviction.
Some jurors met with Petit and his relatives after the verdict, and some also appeared on television wearing pins for a family foundation in memory of the victims, Ullmann said.
The judge repeatedly pressed Ullmann to cite court rulings to bolster his arguments, saying courts do not delve into the mental processes of jurors.
Komisarjevsky faces trial next year.