NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The sister of a man convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters in a gruesome home invasion told a jury Monday he sexually abused her as a child for years, but she said he wasn't a violent person and wouldn't intentionally kill.
Joshua Komisarjevsky's sister testified in the sentencing phase in New Haven Superior Court. Komisarjevsky was convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, in their Cheshire home in 2007. Now, the same jury must decide if he should get the death penalty.
His accomplice, Steven Hayes, is on death row after he was convicted last year of raping and strangling Hawke-Petit and killing her daughters.
The family was tied up during the eight-hour ordeal and gas was poured on the girls, who died of smoke inhalation after the house was set on fire. Komisarjevsky was convicted of the killings and sexually assaulting Michaela.
His sister's name is being withheld by The Associated Press, which generally doesn't identify victims of sexual crimes.
She said the abuse began when she was about 7 and happened "quite often" before it ended when she was 9 or 10. She said her brother admitted to the abuse, which didn't involve sexual intercourse.
She disclosed the abuse when her brother was about 12, saying she broke down crying and blurted it out while at summer camp. She said her brother grew more distant and rebellious and was angry at the world.
The defense says Komisarjevsky's religious family didn't get him the proper psychological treatment. His attorneys say he was sexually abused by a foster teen the family took into their home and later as a teen by someone else. Prosecutors say those claims come from Komisarjevsky and emerged years later when he faced prison time for 19 nighttime residential burglaries.
"I know Josh is not a violent person in nature," she said. "I know Josh would not intentionally decide he is going to kill. I know he would not intentionally harm or decide to kill the Petit family."
A prosecutor asked her if sexual abuse was violence. She called it an act of control.
She began to cry as she said her brother feels a lot of sorrow, self-hatred and anger at himself for the killings. But she said her brother doesn't like Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor whom Komisarjevsky beat with a baseball bat.
"He doesn't believe Dr. Petit did much to help his family out," she said.
Under cross-examination, prosecutors brought up Komisarjevsky's claim that he had not tied up Petit in the basement. But his sister acknowledged that she saw rope in the photos and that he was tied to a pole.
Petit said he managed to free himself from the bindings and hop, crawl and roll to a neighbor's house to get help. Petit testified during the trial that there were two of them, that one of the men had a gun and that his feet were still bound, so fighting back wasn't an option.
"I didn't think it would be a good match," he said.
Petit said after court Monday that it was "hard to dignify the comments of a person who's been convicted of six capital felonies and a sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl."
The testimony by Komisarjevsky's sister largely mirrors defense arguments that Komisarjevsky didn't intend to kill anyone and that it was Hayes' fault. But prosecutors say Komisarjevsky was the mastermind and that it took both men to carry out the crime.
Komisarjevsky's sister and aunt testified that he was very caring toward his 9-year-old daughter and had won custody of her from her drug-addicted mother.
"He was very loving," his sister said. "He always loved children. She would giggle when she was on his lap. He wanted to make sure she was protected and safe."
Defense attorneys showed several drawings Komisarjevsky did in prison, including one of his daughter.
The defense wants to call his daughter to testify, possibly by videotape, but an attorney for the girl has objected. A hearing is planned later in the week.
Komisarjevsky's aunt Karlie Lebatique testified Monday that her nephew should be spared the death penalty.
"Because Josh, ever since he was in the womb, has been rejected, attacked, abused, doubted, every step of the way by people that were supposed to love him the most and take care of him the most," she said in response to a question about why Komisarjevsky should not be sentenced to death.
Lebatique said her nephew has "done some awful things" but needs a second chance. "And he has a daughter that he loves," she said.
Prosecutor Gary Nicholson reminded Lebatique of details of the crime
His aunt blamed Hayes for the killings and said of her nephew: "I don't believe he killed anyone."
Komisarjevsky's mother testified earlier Monday that she suspected he was visiting hundreds of pornographic adult websites days before the crime. About five days before the crime, she said she saw him on the computer at around 2 a.m. with an angry look on his face.
Jude Komisarjevsky said her son's electronic monitoring bracelet was removed days before the crime. She said he immediately started staying out late at night and complained about a lack of money even though he had no bills to pay because he was living with her and her husband.
She said her son left the house late the night of the crime and she feared he was up to no good because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt he used in the past to commit burglaries. When she heard a family had died in a fire nearby, she feared her son could have been involved