A prosecutor said Thursday he will pursue the death penalty against two men suspected of killing three members of a Cheshire family, while new questions emerged about how the state decided to release them from custody earlier this year.
Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes are charged with killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, in their home Monday, and severely injuring Dr. William Petit Jr.
The suspects, who had been serving time on burglary charges, were released after "administrative reviews'' were conducted into their cases.
Neither Komisarjevsky nor Hayes was subjected to a full parole hearing before being released after serving portions of their sentences.
An administrative review is a less formal procedure than a full-scale state parole board hearing. The inmates aren't present and victims cannot testify. The review is performed by three board members and no minutes are kept, officials said Thursday.
Komisarjevsky was paroled in April and Hayes in May. State officials have said the men were released because they were not violent offenders, a criterion for the administrative review. Hayes was paroled despite having been sent back to prison from a community halfway house five months earlier for failing a drug test.
The Courant asked for the names of the three board members who approved the men's paroles, but Department of Correction officials declined to release them Thursday. The department also has refused to release the parole files, claiming they are part of an ongoing investigation.
On Thursday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced the formation of a new panel to review how the two men got parole. Earlier this week, Robert Farr, chairman of the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Parole, said that the release of the two men was appropriate based on the available evidence.
Farr then said the board didn't have all the facts on Komisarjevsky's background when it chose to parole him. If it had, he said, the board's decision might have been different. Farr has said that the board had no idea a Superior Court judge had called Komisarjevsky a "cold, calculating predator'' during a 2002 sentencing because a transcript of the sentencing was not included in his parole file, even though state law required it to be there.
Komisarjevsky was sentenced to nine years on those burglary charges, but served three before he was placed in a halfway house, where he met Hayes.
The two men lived at the same time in a Hartford halfway house for about six months until Hayes was sent back to prison in November of 2006 after he tested positive on a drug test. He remained in prison until the three board members paroled him in May.
Word that the parole board released Hayes and Komisarjevsky based on incomplete case information and without a full hearing prompted one state senator to call for an immediate moratorium on further parole decisions until a full review is complete.
"I think the entire parole process seems to be in shambles," said Sen. Sam Caligiuri, R-Waterbury. "We can't afford to have another mistake made. We can't afford to have another person go out on parole until the board of parole gets its act together.''
Caligiuri, whose district includes Cheshire, said he's been inundated by calls and messages from residents in his district upset about the Cheshire case. He said many of his constituents feel burglary is a violent crime, despite what state correction officials and others have said.
"You're breaking into someone's private domain,'' Caligiuri said. "It should be their sanctuary.''
"You should never let anyone out on parole unless you have all the information you need,'' Caligiuri said. "And the information [The Courant] learned raises serious questions about whether it is appropriate to do anything less than have the highest level of review for these cases. ... It's now clear to me the process desperately needs to be reviewed and strengthened.''
Rell said she is forming a special panel to review not only how Komisarjevsky and Hayes were paroled, but also to take a look at the entire process of who gets released from state prisons.
"I want a top-to-bottom assessment of all the procedures and processes involved in charging, sentencing and releasing those convicted of crimes in Connecticut. I want the facts of the Cheshire case to be used as a touchstone during the course of this examination,'' she said.
The panel will be led by retired Appellate Court Judge Thomas West; Lisa Holden, a victim advocate and executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence; and a retired prosecutor, yet to be selected. The panel will also include representatives of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Department of Correction, the judicial branch, law enforcement and others.
Komisarjevsky and Hayes are charged with holding the Petit family hostage in their Sorghum Mill Drive home for more than six hours and then driving Jennifer Hawke-Petit to the bank to withdraw $15,000. While at the bank she alerted bank officials that her family was being held hostage.
The first Cheshire police officer arrived at the scene just as the two men were fleeing in the family's Chrysler Pacifica. They crashed after trying to plow through a roadblock and were arrested.
When the ordeal was over, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her daughters, Hayley Petit, 17, and Michaela Petit, 11, were dead. The girls, sources said, were tied to their beds and then left to burn after gasoline was poured around their beds and ignited. Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her youngest daughter were both raped, according to court documents filed Thursday by State's Attorney Michael Dearington. Law enforcement sources had previously said Hayley Petit was raped. There is no mention in the filings of the older girl being raped.
William Petit, who was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up in the basement, managed to escape by hopping out the door as the fire engulfed the home.
Komisarjevsky and Hayes are scheduled to appear in Superior Court in New Haven on Aug. 7. They are being held in separate prisons, with bail set at $15 million each.
Dearington filed six capital felony counts Thursday against both men and said he would pursue the death penalty if they're convicted.
Dearington had already charged each man with aggravated sexual assault, arson, robbery, kidnapping and risk of injury to a minor. Komisarjevsky was also charged with felony assault, a charge referring to the beating of William Petit.
The six capital felony counts include murder of more than one person, murder of a person under 16 years old and three counts of murder during the course of a kidnapping. In addition, Hayes is charged with murder during the course of the first-degree sexual assault of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and Komisarjevsky is charged with murder during the course of the first-degree sexual assault of Michaela Petit.
Late Thursday the Petit family announced funeral plans. A private funeral will be held today in Plainville. A memorial service will be held on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Herbert D. Welte Auditorium at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.
Also Thursday, two Cheshire homeowners whose residences were burglarized Sunday night say they have been told by police that the suspects in the Petit break-in are suspects in the break-ins of their homes.
"What happened to them could have happened to us just as easily,'' said David Hick, who was home with his wife and three children when the burglars entered their home and took a photo of him and his wife, cash, credit cards and a cellphone.
"My understanding is one of the suspects in the Petit crime confessed to the two crimes on the street,'' said Hick, referring to the burglaries at his house and that of his neighbor, Ronald Bergamo Jr.
As the family prepares for the funerals, details of the police response to a call from a Bank of America employee have not been released.
State police detectives, who are spearheading the investigation, refused Thursday to release dispatch records or discuss the Cheshire police response to the incident.
State police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said all records of the initial call from the bank, officers being dispatched to the scene, the arrival of the fire department and other details have been seized as part of an "ongoing criminal investigation.''
"It's a very, very active, open and ongoing case,'' Vance said. "We are not going to investigate it in the press.''
Vance said authorities are attempting to construct a chronology of events Monday and the dispatch logs are part of that effort and therefore not available to the public.
Cheshire police have declined to comment on their response.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun