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Opening remarks in Connecticut home invasion trial begin Monday

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By Mary Ellen Godin

NEW HAVEN, Conn (Reuters) - Opening statements in the grisly home invasion trial of a second accused man were set to begin on Monday, after a judge rejected a flurry of defense moves aimed at avoiding the fate of his alleged accomplice, who has been convicted and sentenced to death.

Joshua Komisarjevsky is the second man charged in the 2007 killing of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, at their Cheshire, Connecticut home.

His alleged accomplice, Steven Hayes, was convicted of their murders last year and given the death penalty.

Just prior to the opening statements set to begin on September 19, New Haven Superior Court Judge Jon Blue denied a barrage of motions by lawyers for Komisarjevsky that could have delayed the trial or aided in their client's defense.

Arguing that there was massive pretrial publicity that could harm Komisarjevsky's chances in court, they sought to have the trial moved some 40 miles away to Stamford. They also asked that the jury already selected be disbanded and that newspaper boxes at the court entrance be moved.

Earlier in the week, the defense tried to have the existing jury sequestered, but that motion was denied too.

Defense lawyers also lost their bid to limit testimony from Dr. William Petit Jr., the sole survivor of the attack on July 23, 2007.

Petit was hit in the head with a baseball bat and left unconscious while his family was tied up and murdered. His wife, who was strangled to death, and younger daughter were sexually assaulted.

He was bound in the basement but managed to free himself and escape to a neighbor's home.

The doctor testified in Hayes' trial a year ago, offering gruesome recollections of waking up to hear the intruders' voices, bleeding heavily as he struggled to untie his hands and, finally, with his feet still tied, rolling on the lawn to his neighbor's house as his home went up in flames.

In addition to the murder charges, Komisarjevsky is charged with sexually assaulting the younger daughter before the home was set on fire with the girls, tied to their beds, and the body of Hawke-Petit inside.

Altogether, Komisarjevsky faces 17 charges, six of which have a maximum penalty of death.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, Connecticut has only executed one person, in 2005, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Ellen Wulfhorst)