During closing arguments in Steven Hayes’s trial on Friday, lead prosecutor Michael Dearington argued that Hayes ignited the fire that killed Hayley Petit and two members of her family, seeking to refute the defense’s claims that Hayes’s accomplice was the mastermind behind the crimes, according to The New York Times.
Hayes is one of two men accused of murdering Hayley Petit who was to matriculate with the Class of 2011 along with her mother and younger sister, during a home invasion in July 2007. The two men later allegedly set fire to the Cheshire, Conn., house in order to conceal evidence. The other alleged murderer, Joshua Komisarjevsky, will be tried separately.
Hayes, who faces the death penalty, is charged with capital murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, burglary and arson.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberations as soon as this afternoon, after superior court judge Jon Blue issues the jurors’ legal instructions, according to CNN.
Hayes’ lawyer, New Haven chief public defender Thomas Ullmann, placed blame for much of the crime on Hayes’s accomplice, according to the Connecticut Law Tribune. In his closing statement, Ullmann said it was Komisarjevsky’s “unilateral decision” to stray from the pair’s original plan to “break into the house, tie up people, steal money, steal jewelry and leave.”
Komisarjevsky altered the plan, Ullmann said, when he sexually assaulted one of the girls while Hayes was at the gas station and then the bank, according to the Tribune.
“Hayes’ one big goal is life without any possibility of parole,” Thomas Scheffey, an attorney, wrote in an analysis of the trial for the Tribune.
One of the defense’s strategies was to portray the deaths as “not especially heinous or cruel,” the Connecticut Law Tribune reported.
To do this, Ullmann asked state fire marshall Paul Makuc to confirm four different firefighters’ reports of heavy smoke, seeking to stress that the victims died of smoke inhalation and were not burned alive, according to the Tribune.
Hayley and Michaela died of smoke inhalation, while their mother was strangled by Hayes, according to testimony.
In seeking the death penalty, Dearington argued that Hayes’s alleged crimes constitute “death plus” killing someone while committing another crime which, under Connecticut law, is required for a crime to warrant capital punishment, according to The Times.
Although Hayes may be sentenced to life in prison for killing Hawke-Petit, he would be eligible for the death penalty if the jury finds him guilty for murdering Hawke-Petit while rapingher, which would satisfy the “death plus” requirement.
Hayes confessed to raping Hawke-Petit during the trial, but the defense argued that this act might have occurred at a different time than his later strangulation of her, The Times reported.
A guilty verdict for the murder of Michaela Petit would also make Hayes eligible for the death penalty under state law, because it is a capital offense to kill a person under age 16.
Dearington sought to discredit Ullmann’s claims that Komisarjevsky was the mastermind behind the crimes, charging that Hayes “was part of that whole plan to destroy this family, to take their money and to burn that house down,” CNN reported.
The prosecution referred to a police report in which Hayes said his life “sucked and that he had no money, no car and not enough to eat,” according to CNN.
Dearington argued that this explained why Hayes remained at the crime scene even when Komisarjevsky altered the pair’s original plans, CNN reported.
“Why didn’t he leave? He didn’t leave because of his desire for money,” Dearington said.
The prosecution also cited the fact that Hayes was the last to leave the Petit house as proof that Hayes must have lit the house on fire, according to CNN. Dearington asked the jury for guilty verdicts on all 17 counts.
Before Hayes’ trial began, his lawyers filed a motion to bar from evidence the names of several books that he read while in prison. In the Connecticut jail where he is incarcerated, Hayes had access to true crime books and works of fiction that depict murder and graphic violence, with no apparent restrictions based on a reader’s criminal history, according to a review of the prison library system by the Associated Press.
One such book, “In Cold Blood,” depicts a 1959 killing in Kansas that bears significant similarity to the Petit case. The book tells the true story of two parolees who broke into a respected Kansas family’s home and, after finding no money, killed the parents and two of their children.
Prosecutors ultimately decided not to raise the issue during trial, the AP reported.