Investigator: Gas-fueled fire engulfed Conn. house during home invasion; mom, 2 girls killed

By John Christoffersen, AP
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Official: Conn. home invasion fire spread quickly

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A gasoline-fueled arson blaze spread “in a very rapid, quick and violent manner” through a house where a mother and two girls died in a 2007 home invasion, a fire investigator testified Tuesday.

Paul Makuc of the state fire marshal’s office testified Tuesday in the trial of Steven Hayes, one of two men charged in the killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela. Prosecutors say Hawke-Petit was strangled and her daughters died of smoke inhalation after the men set the house on fire.

The fire was so intense that firefighters had to retreat when they tried to enter the house at different points, Makuc said.

Makuc says the fire began in a family room where the mother’s body was found and quickly spread to the second floor into the girls’ bedrooms. He earlier described evidence of the accelerant poured on Michaela and around Hayley in their bedrooms.

Prosecutors say Hayes and co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky tied the girls to their beds and poured gas on or around them before burning the family’s Cheshire house.

Three plastic containers were found in the house — including one under Hayley’s body in a second floor hallway where she had fled — with gasoline, Makuc said.

Hayes’s attorney conceded much of the evidence on the first day of the trial, but also has been trying to emphasize Komisarjevsky’s role in the crime. Under cross-examination, Makuc said the tests do not tell him who poured the gas.

Hayes told police he went out and got the gas, according to earlier testimony.

Jack Hubball of the state forensic lab, who began testimony Tuesday, confirmed the container found on the first floor contained gas. Tests confirmed gas on the clothes of Komisarjevsky and Hayes as well as on debris taken from the staircase, he said.

Prosecutors are expected to conclude their case Tuesday, followed by the defense which the judge said is expected to be relatively brief. Closing arguments are tentatively scheduled for Friday.

If Hayes is convicted, the same jury would weigh whether he should receive the death penalty in a separate penalty phase. Komisarjevsky goes on trial next year.

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