Bank teller, manager testify on first day of trial in Conn. deadly home-invasion case

By Stephen Singer, AP
Monday, September 13, 2010

Bankers testify in Conn. deadly home-invasion case

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Connecticut jury weighing the case against a man accused of killing a woman and her two children in a home invasion heard from two bank employees on the first day of the trial.

The defendant, Steven Hayes, could be sentenced to death in the killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her 11- and 17-year-old daughters.

Authorities say Hayes forced the woman to withdraw money from the bank. The New Haven jury on Monday heard from the bank teller who served her. They also heard from the bank manager who called 911.

State’s Attorney Michael Dearington and Public Defender Thomas Ullmann gave their opening statements earlier in the day.

The victims’ family says they have been through “a long and very painful process to get to this day.”

Hayes’ co-defendant is awaiting trial.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A defense lawyer, saying his client will “concede much, but not all” of the case against him, told a jury Monday that his client killed a Connecticut mother in a home invasion three years ago that also resulted in the deaths of her two children.

Steven Hayes’ trial began Monday in New Haven Superior Court with a prosecutor warning jurors that they would hear “indescribable” details and with Hayes’ own attorney admitting that Hayes was involved in the violent home invasion.

Hayes is trying to avoid to possibility of being put to death in the killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her 11- and 17-year-old daughters. Her husband and the only survivor of the home invasion in Cheshire, Dr. William Petit, was scheduled to testify.

Public Defender Thomas Ullmann told the jury Monday that the 47-year-old Hayes killed and sexually assaulted Jennifer Hawke-Petit.

But Ullmann noted that Hayes told police that things “got out of control,” and that Hayes’ co-defendant, 30-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky, said no one was supposed to get hurt.

The crime started out as a robbery but veered into a homicide and ended with the house being burned to destroy evidence, Ullmann said. Authorities say the fire killed the children.

“I hope I don’t sound callous or indifferent in describing what happened. These are the chilling facts of the case,” Ullmann told jurors.

State’s Attorney Michael Dearington told jurors they would hear “indescribable events in the testimony,” but asked them to render a fair decision.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky, who is awaiting trial, have tried to blame each other for escalating the crime. Both defendants had offered to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences, but prosecutors pushed for death penalty trials, defense attorneys have said.

Also Monday, Judge Jon C. Blue dismissed three women from the jury after asking the panel if there were any new developments that would affect their service.

Blue dismissed one juror who said her job hours had changed and that serving on the jury would now be a financial hardship. A second woman was excused after she said she had learned some details about Hayes, including that he had tried to commit suicide in prison. The third juror dismissed said she now thought she couldn’t go through a trial and her memory wasn’t good.

The jury now includes six women and six men. Four alternate jurors remain.

Authorities say a chance encounter at a local supermarket led to the July 2007 home invasion.

Komisarjevsky spotted Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters at the store and followed them home, then returned later with Hayes, authorities said.

Authorities say Hayes and Komisarjevsky, two paroled burglars, broke into the house, tied up Dr. Petit and beat him, before taking his family hostage and forcing his wife to withdraw money from a bank.

The first witness to testify was Kristin Makhazangi, the bank teller who served Hawke-Petit. Makhazangi said Hawke-Petit told her she needed to withdraw $15,000 because her family was being held hostage.

“Her hands were a little shaky but she was not overly anxious,” Makhazangi said. “She was focusing on our conversation.”

Makhazangi said she talked with the bank manager, gave Hawke-Petit the money and then saw her get into a car that police say was being driven by Hayes. A bank employee simultaneously called police.

Hayes is accused of sexually assaulting and strangling Hawke-Petit. Komisarjevsky is charged with sexually assaulting 11-year-old Michaela. The two then allegedly tied the girls to their beds, poured gasoline on and around them and set the house on fire.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky fled the burning home in the family’s car, but were caught a short time later when they rammed several police cruisers, authorities said. Hayes was wearing 17-year-old Hayley’s high school cap, police say.

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