He never returned to the practice of medicine, not after a home invasion took his wife and daughters, leaving him a survivor and a symbol.
Dr. William A. Petit Jr. is an activist now, willing to stand with any candidate who pledges to support a mandatory life sentence on violent three-time felons.
A law passed earlier this year in response to his losses imposes a range of tougher penalties on persistent offenders, including a 30-year mandatory sentence for home invasion.
But it is not enough.
On Thursday, Petit crowded around a lectern on the steps of the Old Woodbury Town Hall with four Republican legislators, three of whom were taking the pledge; the other organized the Three Strikes Now Coalition.
"I support the Three Strikes Now Coalition and the concept because I feel it's the government's first duty to protect its citizens," Petit said. "I'm not sure we need much government if the government can't protect us."
Petit, 52, looked professorial. His wavy hair is salt-and-pepper now, worn longer than when he practiced. He wore rimless glasses and a houndstooth jacket the color of autumn leaves.
Squinting into the midday sun, Petit chose his words carefully.
In a soft, measured voice that used to reassure the patients at the Joslin Center for Diabetes in New Britain, Petit talked about rape and arson and murder. He said later that he doesn't want to be strident.
"I figured that won't help right now," Petit said. "You know, if we had a beer, and we were off the record, I'd tell you what I really - you know. You're hearing 95 percent of what I really think. There are some things that are just - I don't understand."
On a July night in 2007, intruders clubbed and trussed Petit at his home in Cheshire, the start of an ordeal that ended with the deaths of his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and their daughters, Hayley, 17, and 12-year-old Michaela.
Hawke-Petit and Michaela were raped. The mother was strangled. Both daughters were left bound in their beds, the house doused with gasoline and set afire.
"Even now, you feel like you are being abused. Somebody murders your family in 2007, and they tell you they're going to go to trial in 2010," Petit said. "Wow, what a great system we have."
A year ago, politicians raced to propose criminal-justice reforms in Hartford. In Washington, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, proposed making home invasion a federal crime.
This fall, crime and other issues have receded for most candidates in the face of a dark economy. Taxes and jobs dominate most campaign mailings, said one legislative strategist.
Sen. Rob Kane, R- Watertown, one of the legislators who took the pledge Thursday, said, "People are talking to me about the economy, taxes and energy. They are worried about the state deficit going up and then taxes going up."
Sen. Sam S.F. Caligiuri, R- Waterbury, who organized the Three Strikes Now Coalition, said the coalition and the Petits are trying to make sure the issue is revisited after the election.
Caligiuri said the Petits are aware that the two men charged in the Cheshire case would not have been eligible for prosecution under a three-strikes law.
The coalition's pledge has not been an easy sell, even with Petit and his sister Johanna Petit Chapman as honorary co-chairs.
Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane applauded the passage of the reforms this year. He said he hopes the legislature looks to reforms other than sentencing in the next session.
"I think the legislature should be very careful when it restricts or eliminates judicial discretion, even when the crime is so horrendous, people feel there ought to be no discretion," he said.
Petit said he is unconvinced that a stronger three-strikes law would be unworkable.
"I'm willing to listen, but I really haven't heard an argument that makes much sense to me," Petit said. "I can't imagine one that I will hear, but maybe there's one."
The coalition is only part of his activism.
"I'm very busy," he said.
He is president of the board of a new charity, the Petit Family Foundation, which was granted nonprofit status by the IRS in March. It is dedicated to celebrating the lives of his wife and daughters, not their deaths.
It raises and distributes money in their memories to foster education, especially women studying science, and to help and support those affected by chronic illness and violence. The foundation's work is an easier subject than the coalition.
"I prefer to be out talking about positive things like, you know, read more books, be good to your kids, educate your kids, get opportunities for people, instead of talking about locking up ugly, nasty, mean people for the rest of their lives," Petit said.
"It's not like you walk away feeling completely fulfilled," he said. "It's not a position to be in."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun