Investigator says fire accelerant found on bodies of girls killed in Connecticut home invasion

By John Christoffersen, AP
Friday, September 24, 2010

Fire accelerant found on 2 home invasion victims

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Flammable liquid was spilled on or around two girls in their bedrooms before they died with their mother in a Connecticut home invasion, a fire investigator testified Friday.

Paul Makuc of the state fire marshal’s office testified at the New Haven trial of Steven Hayes, one of two men charged with capital felony murder, sexual assault and other crimes in the 2007 deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela. The girls died of smoke inhalation. Their mother was strangled.

Prosecutors say Hayes and a co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, who is still awaiting trial, tied the girls to their beds and poured gasoline on or around them before burning the house.

Makuc described evidence of an accelerant around Michaela’s bed and on her body as jurors were shown a photo of the girl.

“The pour pattern of the ignitable liquid went across Michaela’s body,” Makuc said.

He said a similar pattern of poured liquid was found on the floor of Hayley’s room and on her bed as he described distinct and unusual lines of fire leading into the girl’s bedrooms from a hallway. During his testimony, jurors were shown a picture of Hayley’s charred mattress with rope tied to the bedpost.

A partly melted plastic container was found under Hayley’s body in a hallway where she fled.

“Her body protected that container from melting further,” Mukuc said.

Makuc said another container was found nearby, but he did not testify about the contents of the containers. A state police detective testified earlier that Hayes told him he went to a gas station to fill containers the men found at the house.

Dr. William Petit, the girls’ father, who was severely beaten with a baseball bat during the attack but managed to escape, tapped his right foot rapidly in court during Makuc’s testimony. Petit initially did not look at photos of his house when they were first displayed Friday.

The fire was so intense it burst through windows and skylights and drove back firefighters when flames “rolling over their heads,” Makuc said.

Earlier Friday, a state forensic scientist, John Schienman, testified that DNA evidence linked the victims with the two men.

Hayes is accused of sexually assaulting Hawke-Petit. Schienman said Hayes’ DNA was found on her body. He testified Komisarjevsky’s DNA was found on Michaela, whom Komisarjevsky is charged with sexually assaulting.

Schienman said a bat and Komisarjevsky’s sweat shirt bore Petit’s blood.

Komisarjevsky’s attorney, Jeremiah Donovan, made a rare statement about the case outside of court, saying it did not violate a court imposed gag order and he was trying to clear up a misunderstanding of some evidence by relatives of the victims. He said Komisarjevsky gave a detailed confession to authorities after the crime in which he said he ejaculated on Michaela.

“We are deeply sympathetic to the sadness of the Petit family and I realize this is probably just a very small solace,” Donovan said.

Dr. Petit’s sister, Johanna Chapman, said she was outraged by Donovan’s statement.

“We don’t need his sympathy, we don’t want his sympathy,” Chapman said.

Dr. Petit said he hopes Donovan will be cited for contempt of court.

Donovan was kicked out of court by the judge late Friday after his cell phone rang.

Jurors were given Monday off, with the trial to resume Tuesday.

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