Conn. man shifted blame in deadly home invasion

August 24, 2011 - 3:55 PM

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — An ex-con awaiting trial on charges of killing a woman and her two daughters during a 2007 home invasion told police after his arrest that he tied up the victims and molested the 11-year-old, but he blamed his co-defendant for turning a home robbery into a triple murder.

In a chilling 2007 statement to police obtained this week by The Associated Press, Joshua Komisarjevsky calls the crime "home invading gone terribly wrong" and insists he never intended to kill the family.

He claims his co-defendant, Steven Hayes, came up with the idea of killing the family because he was worried the pair would leave behind evidence. He says Hayes doused the house in gasoline and lit the match that engulfed the home in flames, which caused the girls' smoke inhalation deaths.

"I'm not killing anyone, there's no way," Komisarjevsky claimed he told Hayes. "We have the money, there's not a problem, you know, they've done everything, don't know who we are, they can't recognize us."

Komisarjevsky blamed Hayes for escalating the violence at key moments during the night of terror, foreshadowing what is likely to be the defense strategy at his trial beginning Sept. 19.

Hayes, who was convicted last year and is on death row, had portrayed Komisarjevsky as the mastermind during his trial.

Prosecutors say the two men, paroled burglars who met at a halfway house, were equally responsible for the crime, which drew comparisons to the 1959 slayings portrayed in Truman Capote's book "In Cold Blood."

A hearing is planned Friday on a move by Komisarjevsky's attorneys to get his confession thrown out. They argue that he had been awake for 39 hours when he gave the statement, although authorities say he voluntarily gave it and did not appear tired.

Komisarjevsky's attorneys quoted excerpts of the confession in a court filing in March, but the full 75-page statement obtained by the AP provides new details about his frame of mind and gives a full narrative of the crime.

Authorities say the men are both responsible for killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit, who was strangled, and her 11- and 17-year-old daughters, Michaela and Hayley. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Hawke-Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit, survived.

Hugh Keefe, a criminal defense attorney in New Haven, said Komisarjevsky's statement is, in a way, predictable. Experienced criminal defendants like Hayes and Komisarjevsky know the benefits of cooperating and plea agreements, he said.

"He knows his options of getting out are very few and one of them is to blame the other guy," Keefe said. "The problem is, how does one force somebody to commit the crimes that he committed?"

In the statement, Komisarjevsky said he first spotted Hawke-Petit and one of her daughters leaving a grocery store.

"For whatever reason I chose to follow the mom and the daughter to the house and started thinking it's a very nice house and very nice car and thought it would be nice to be there someday," Komisarjevsky said. "Not have to worry about financial problems and stress and all that and what comes with it."

Komisarjevsky said he and Hayes returned to the house in Cheshire the night of July 23, 2007, and gained entry through an unlocked basement door. He said he stood over William Petit, who was sleeping in a sunroom, for 15 to 20 minutes before beating him with a baseball bat at Hayes' urging.

"He let out this, this unearthly scream," Komisarjevsky said. "He was bleeding profusely."

The men tied up Petit and walked upstairs with rope and found Hawke-Petit asleep in the master bedroom with Michaela, he said. Hayes put his hand over Hawke-Petit's mouth, shook her awake, and the men tied her and her daughter up, Komisarjevsky said. Then they went to another bedroom and tied up 17-year-old Hayley Petit, he said. They also put pillowcases over the victims' heads, he said.

Komisarjevsky said he found a towel in the kitchen and put it on Petit's head to stop the bleeding. He said the men moved Petit into the basement, describing him as "a little shaky" from shock and losing blood.

He also claimed he got the girls water and loosened their restraints.

Unable to find money in the home, the men came up with a plan to send the mother to the bank to withdraw $15,000, he said.

Hayes then took Hawke-Petit to the bank, Komisarjevsky said. Komisarjevsky recalled it was then that he "locked eyes" with Michaela, who was sweating profusely. During the confession he started to refer to her by her nickname, "KK," and said he talked to her about her summer plans and "boredom sometimes, obviously not mine."

Komisarjevsky said he cut the girl's clothes off with a scissors and sexually abused her while she was tied up. He said he took pictures of her on his cell phone.

Komisarjevsky laughed when he was asked if he let the girl take a shower without the pillowcase, according to the transcript.

When Hayes returned from the bank, he told Komisarjevsky they would need gasoline, saying even a drop of sweat or a fallen hair could lead authorities to trace their DNA because they were both felons whose DNA was on record, according to the statement.

Komisarjevsky claimed he was "a little stunned and perplexed." He said he heard the chugging sound of bottles being emptied in the kitchen sink. Hayes then told him he was going out to get gas, he said.

When Hayes returned, Komisarjevsky said Hayes told him flatly that they had to kill the family and burn the house down.

Komisarjevsky said Hayes was walking around with a stocking, talking about strangling the victims. Komisarjevsky said he heard a noise in the basement and realized William Petit had escaped.

Komisarjevsky said at one point he saw Hawke-Petit's lifeless body on the floor. Hayes was convicted of raping and strangling her. (Hayes told authorities he sexually assaulted Hawke-Petit after Komisarjevsky told him he had to "square things up" because Komisarjevsky had sexually assaulted one of the girls.)

Hayes then poured gas around the house, Komisarjevsky said.

Komisarjevsky said he closed the doors to the bedrooms where the girls were tied up.

"I can't imagine anyone being burned alive," Komisarjevsky said. "I got myself in this horrible position, but you know they did every, they did, they did what they were supposed to do. There was no reason for them to die. You know, they were compliant the entire way, both you know, very bright young ladies."

A detective pressed Komisarjevsky on why he didn't free the girls.

"I didn't even think about untying them, like for, for for whatever stupid reason, like, it just didn't cross my mind," he said.

Komisarjevsky said he was screaming that they had to flee as Hayes stumbled with an oversized pack of matches.

On the third try, Hayes got a match lit and flicked it into a puddle of gas on the tile floor in the kitchen. Flames erupted in the kitchen and raced toward the stairway leading to the girls' bedrooms.

The men fled in the family's car and crashed into two police cruisers blocking the road.

"It wasn't supposed to be like this, it was strictly, strictly go to the bank and leave," Komisarjevsky said.