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Conn. Home Invasion Killer Joshua Komisarjevsky Is Sentenced To Death

JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN   01/27/12 09:35 PM ET   AP

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — How does a man move on with his life after losing his wife and daughters to two ruthless home invaders who tormented, then killed them?

For more than four years, a nation both disgusted and captivated by a chilling crime in prototypical suburbia has wondered that. Only one man – Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor – can provide the answer.

On Friday, with the second killer sentenced to death and the book closed after two long, graphic trials, Petit gave a clue as to how he copes with pain he has been forced to revisit continually in court.

"My only hope is for justice to be served and to do my best to honor the lives of my family, who should all still be here to share their gifts and love with the world," Petit said Friday right before a judge sentenced Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, to death.

"I hope to continue to honor my family," said Petit, who survived being beaten with a baseball bat and tied up. "I push forward in the hope that good will overcome evil, and feel the need to tell the world that evil lives among us and we need to rid the world of it."

The gruesome crime evoked comparisons to Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," about the brutal murders of a Kansas farmer and his family.

Komisarjevsky admitted in an audiotaped confession played for the jury in his trial late last year that he spotted Petit's wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and their 11-year-old daughter, Michaela, at a supermarket and followed them to their house in Cheshire, a suburb of New Haven.

After going home and putting his own daughter to bed, he and Steven Hayes, now 48, returned to the Petit house in the middle of the night, while the family was sleeping, to rob it.

Dr. Petit was beaten, tied up and taken to the basement. Michaela and Hayley, 17, were tied to their beds. In the morning, Hayes took Jennifer to the bank to withdraw money, while Komisarjevsky stayed at the house.

It's believed that's when he sexually assaulted Michaela, the 11-year-old. Hayes was convicted of sexually assaulting the mother.

After Hayes arrived back at the house with the girls' mother, she was strangled. The pair doused the house and beds with gasoline, set it ablaze and left. The sisters, bound helplessly while flames and fumes rose around them, died of smoke inhalation.

Dr. Petit managed to escape the basement and hop, roll and crawl across a yard to a neighbor's house for help – too late to save his family.

"July 23, 2007, was our personal holocaust," Petit said Friday. "A holocaust caused by two who are completely evil and actually do not comprehend what they have done."

Petit called his wife a friend, confidant and wonderful mother. He noted that Hayley would be in medical school by now and that Michaela loved to cook and sing.

"I lost my family and my home," he said. "They were three special people. Your children are your jewels."

Petit said he has difficulty sleeping and trusting. Family gatherings are subdued, he said, with no one quite sure what to do or say.

Jennifer's sister, Cynthia Hawke-Renn, said via a video played in court that everyday items like gas, rope and bedposts conjure horrific memories.

"There is no escaping the horrors of that night," she said.

Petit's father, William Petit Sr., said his son is not the same person now as he was in the days when he was a happy husband and father.

"Not only did we lose Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela, we have lost the Bill that we knew, and it is heartbreaking daily to watch him," Petit said. "He puts on a brave face and tries to hide his anguish and despair by working hard."

Petit has found what he calls occasional moments of peace, dedicating himself to a charity named for his family that raises money for education, the chronically ill and those affected by violence; and by campaigning for tougher laws, including the death penalty.

He has admitted he contemplated suicide many times. But this month he became engaged to a woman who volunteered at foundation events.

Petit has maintained his composure in court through three trials, even as the defense referred to him and his family as the "Petit posse."

Komisarjevsky's lawyers had worked to spare him the death penalty by describing sexual abuse their client endured as a child. The jury and the judge – who had been subjected to grim evidence including pictures of charred beds, rope used to tie up the family and autopsy photos – were unmoved.

The crime led to the defeat of a bill to outlaw the death penalty in Connecticut and sparked tougher state laws for repeat offenders and home invasions.

"This is a terrible sentence, but it is in truth a sentence you wrote for yourself with deeds of unimaginable horror and savagery on July 23, 2007," Judge Jon Blue said.

Komisarjevsky conveyed a mixture of regret and insistence in court Friday, saying that he didn't intend for anyone to die, that he didn't rape Michaela and that he didn't start the fire.

"I wonder when the killing will end," he said of his death sentence.

He described regrets and the devastating consequences of his decisions – but blamed Hayes for the killings.

"I know my responsibilities, but what I cannot do is carry the responsibilities of the actions of another," Komisarjevsky said. "I did not want those innocent women to die."

The state's last execution in 2005 was the first since 1960, and Komisarjevsky and Hayes will likely spend years, if not decades, in prison.

William Petit and his relatives left the courtroom before Komisarjevsky spoke. The killer noted that "forgiveness is not mine to have" but said it wasn't the forgiveness of the victims' relatives he needed to find.

"I have to learn how to forgive my worst enemy – myself," he said.

Petit's sister, Hannah Chapman, said Komisarjevsky tried to blame others when he planned and carried out the crime, escalating it by attacking her brother and molesting her niece.

"Either way, he will be damned to hell for what he did," she said, "and that is where he belongs."

Loading Slideshow...
  • Joshua Komisarjevsky

    This March 14, 2011 file photo, provided by the Connecticut Department of Correction, shows Joshua Komisarjevsky. On Oct. 13, 2011, Komisarjevsky was convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters in a July 2007 home invasion in Cheshire, Conn. A jury sentenced him to death on Dec. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Connecticut Department of Correction, File)

  • William Petit Jr.

    Dr. William Petit Jr., left, managed to survive the attack despite being beaten by Komisarjevsky. In this Oct. 13, 2011 picture, taken after Komisarjevsky was convicted of capital felony for the July 2007 home invasion, Petit stands with his sister Johanna Chapman outside Superior Court in New Haven. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

  • Steven Hayes

    This photo, supplied by the Connecticut State Police, shows Steven Hayes -- Komisarjevsky's accomplice in the home invasion and triple homicide, according to authorities. Hayes, 44, was sentenced to death for his involvement in the crime in 2010. (AP Photo/Connecticut State Police)

  • The Hawke-Petit Family

    Richard and Marybelle Hawke pose with a picture of their daughter and granddaughters at their Venice, Fla. home on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007. The Hawkes' daughter Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and his granddaughters Hayley Elizabeth Petit, 17, and Michaela Rose Petit, 11, were held hostage for several hours before they were killed. Hawke-Petit's husband was beaten but managed to escape the house, which the attackers were accused of setting on fire. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

  • The Family

    This photograph, taken during a family vacation in 2003, shows the Petit family four years before the home invasion. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

  • The Scene Of The Crime

    This police photo shows the rear of the fire-damaged Petit home in Cheshire, Conn., where three family members were killed during a home invasion July 23, 2007. The image was released by the Connecticut Judicial Branch as evidence presented in Komisarjevsky's trial in New Haven, Conn. Superior Court. (AP Photo/Connecticut Judicial Branch)

  • The Memorial

    Petit, center, walks past a picture of his daughter Hayley after speaking at a ceremony honoring his wife and two daughters at Cheshire high school in Cheshire, Conn., on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007. Petit's wife and daughters were killed in a home invasion in Cheshire on July 23, 2007. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

  • Fire Damage

    This police photo, also included as evidence, shows the interior of the home where Hawke-Petit and her daughters Hayley and Michaela perished. Hawke-Petit's husband was severely beaten, but managed to escape from the house before Hayes and Komisarjevsky burned it down, according to investigators. (AP Photo/Connecticut Judicial Branch)

  • Three Angels

    This Sept. 7, 2010 photo shows a remembrance garden in place where the Petit family's house once stood in Cheshire, Conn. Intruders broke into the Petit family home and held the family hostage for several hours before setting the house on fire. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

  • A Brutal Crime

    This police photo, also released by the Connecticut Judicial Branch as evidence, shows the fire-damaged kitchen of the Petit home. Prosecutors say Komisarjevsky and Hayes broke into the home, attacked Petit with a bat and tied up the entire family. According to police, Hayes drove Hawke-Petit to a bank and made her withdraw cash, then raped her and strangled her back at the house. Petit found a way to escape and seek help, but the children died after the house was doused in gasoline and lit on fire, authorities say. (AP Photo/Connecticut Judicial Branch)

  • The Trial

    Petit, right, walks back to at Superior Court after a break from jury selection in the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky at Superior Court in New Haven, Conn., Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Petit is the sole survivor of the 2007 Cheshire, Conn., home invasion where his wife and their daughters, Hayley and Michaela, were murdered. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

  • The Crime Scene

    This police photo, presented as evidence, shows the inside of the Petit home. Both Hayes and Komisarjevsky blamed each other for the increasing violence during the home invasion. (AP Photo/Connecticut Judicial Branch)

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