Potential finger-pointing between the two suspects in last year's triple homicide in Cheshire and questions about the use of evidence in a single jury trial has prompted both suspects to seek separate trials.
New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington said during a hearing Monday in Superior Court that he agreed with trying Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes separately. But Dearington left open the unusual possibility that the trials could be held simultaneously with different juries. It was not discussed in open court whether the juries would be in the same or separate courtrooms.
Dearington told Judge Richard A. Damiani the possibility of mutually antagonistic defenses — where each defendant attempts to exculpate himself and blame the other — could be prejudicial to the defendants. He also said that evidence admissible against one defendant could be inadmissible against the other.
Legal experts contacted Monday said separate trials would help Komisarjevsky and Hayes receive fair criminal trials. For example, if tried jointly, evidence used against Hayes in the case might also be considered by jurors in their verdict for Komisarjevsky, even if a judge instructs jurors not to consider evidence used against Hayes for Komisarjevsky's case.
"Both tend to get smeared with the same brush," said Martin B. Margulies, a professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law. "And limited instruction by the judge isn't going to empty the minds of the jury."
Komisarjevsky, 27, of Cheshire, and Hayes, 45, of Winsted, have pleaded not guilty to the July 23 beating of Dr. William Petit and the killings of his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and their daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. They face capital felony and multiple murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and arson charges in connection with the killings.
The men, convicted criminals, were out on parole at the time of the attack. Dearington is seeking the death penalty for both men.
Police sources have said Hayes and Komisarjevsky gave statements to police about the events of July 23 inside the Petits' Cheshire home. Those sources said Komisarjevsky told investigators Hayes killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit.
In a taped statement, Komisarjevsky said he heard a commotion and came down the stairs to find Hayes "getting violent" with Hawke-Petit, sources said. Komisarjevsky told police he shouted at Hayes and asked what he was doing.
Hayes, according to sources, responded by telling Komisarjevsky there could be no witnesses and that they needed to burn everything, according to Komisarjevsky's statement. Hayes' statement is less detailed and contradicts Komisarjevsky's account, sources said.
Officials have declined to publicly discuss statements made by Hayes and Komisarjevsky. Damiani has imposed a gag order on all parties involved in the case.
Last September during arguments against unsealing court documents in the case, Public Defender Thomas J. Ullmann, an attorney for Hayes, came close to confirming existence of statements the men made to police.
Ullmann said arrest warrant affidavits contain "purported alleged admissions by either defendant," statements that he said could be "inflammatory and prejudicial."
On Monday, family members of the victims filled a courtroom row. They watched as Komisarjevsky and a much thinner Hayes were brought into the courtroom together under heavy security.
During the hearing, Ullmann tried unsuccessfully to position himself close to his client as camouflage-clad special operations guards with the state Department of Correction stood between Hayes, Komisarjevsky and their lawyers.
Ullmann decried what he called "a circus atmosphere" correction officials create with each court appearance for Komisarjevsky and Hayes. In addition to extremely tight security inside the courthouse, New Haven police officers blocked off a side road to the courthouse Monday.
After Monday's hearing, at least seven special guards filed out of the courtroom past members of the media and the public gathered in a hallway in preparation for the suspects' return to their transport vehicle.
"The sooner the Department of Correction stops making this a circus, the sooner we can move on," Ullmann said.
"This is ridiculous. There is no need for it. It's got to stop."
Ullmann said judicial marshals stationed at the courthouse offer sufficient security.
Damiani said court officials and correction officials plan to discuss the security measures.
The next pretrial hearing for Hayes and Komisarjevsky is July 18.
Contact Alaine Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun