crimesider

Petit Family Murder Suspect Called Killings "Extreme Sport," Says Book

(Family Photo)
Photo: Dr. William Petit and his family.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CBS/AP) One of the men awaiting trial for capital murder in a horrific home invasion cackled as he escaped from the burning home where a family lay dying, according to a new book. On his head, was a school cap from one of the victims.

Author Brian McDonald writes in "In the Middle of the Night: The Shocking True Story of a Family Killed in Cold Blood," that one of the girls who was killed had tried to call 911 on her cell phone and one of the accused killers watched as the mother of two girls begged for her life while being strangled to death.

McDonald based the book partly on interviews with one of the suspects, Joshua Komisarjevsky, and contains new details about what happened inside the home in the upscale Connecticut town of Cheshire.

Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes face the possibility of the death penalty if convicted in the 2007 killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela. Hawke-Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit, was beaten but survived.

The two are accused of breaking into the home in Cheshire, beating the doctor and forcing his wife to withdraw thousands of dollars from a nearby bank before they strangled her. Their daughters died of smoke inhalation from a fire police say the intruders set as they fled after holding the family hostage for several hours.

"In a full sprint Joshua is first out of the house. Next comes Steven Hayes, screaming in a high-pitched insane laugh," McDonald writes. "On his head is Hayley's gray-and-green school hat."

The two are awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to capital felony murder, sexual assault, kidnapping and arson. Their attorneys have said they offered to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences, but prosecutors turned them down.

McDonald said he began corresponding with Komisarjevsky, leading to four interviews. When prison officials discovered that a writer was visiting Komisarjevsky, they removed McDonald's name from a visitor's list.

"I remember the look of fear, the tear rolling down the cheek, the sight of pain, the spray of blood," Komisarjevsky told McDonald. "The sound of a tremble in a voice."

(AP)
Photo: Firemen investigate a burned area of the home of Dr. William Petit in Cheshire, Conn., July 23, 2007.

Prosecutors, Hayes' attorney and a prison spokesman declined to comment, citing a gag order. Petit's attorney also declined to comment.

A telephone message left by The Associated Press for Komisarjevsky's attorney was not immediately returned, and neither was an e-mail the AP sent to McDonald.

According to McDonald's book:

Komisarjevsky was a smart but troubled young man who was sexually abused as a child and had a history of depression, drug use and suicide attempts. He claimed to have burglarized hundreds of homes, including fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger's house in Greenwich.

He called the break-ins "a form of extreme sport," but this one was different. Komisarjevsky had bought zip ties and a BB gun and Hayes had asked him if he would commit an armed robbery.

Komisarjevsky spotted Hawke-Petit and her two daughters at a supermarket and followed them to their house.

"And that's when he put it all together," McDonald wrote. "He'd take a family hostage. That would open all sorts of possibilities, endless possibilities. And he liked the way the younger Petit girl looked."

He returned with Hayes later that day and gained entry to the house through a bulkhead door that led to the basement. Inside, Komisarjevsky found a bat, which he used to club Dr. Petit, who was sleeping on a couch. Hayes stood outside, watching through a window with a big grin on his face.

Komisarjevsky struck Petit four or five times with the bat as hard as he could, but Petit did not lose consciousness. The two men tied up Petit and asked him to describe the layout of the house.

"According to Joshua, Dr. Petit told him what he wanted to know and then slumped on the couch," McDonald wrote.

Upstairs, the two men tied Hayley's arms and legs to a bedpost. "Why are you doing this?" she asked.

In another room, Hawke-Petit let out a gasp when the men confronted her, but she held in her emotions as they tied her hands.

They led a confused Michaela, who had been sleeping with her mother, into her own bedroom, which was filled with stuffed animals. Komisarjevsky tied her hands and feet as her eyes filled with tears. At one point, he took photos of the girl.

Hayes stole Hawke-Petit's jewelry, including a string of pearls, and grabbed a jar of coins that Michaela had collected.

Hawke-Petit pleaded with her captors not to hurt her family. Hayes took Hawke-Petit to a bank to get money, but got lost three times. He also took off his latex gloves.

Komisarjevsky thought of killing Hayes after the blunders.

Komisarjevsky claims he liked Hawke-Petit, even calling her "my mom" in an interview with McDonald. He said she even offered to make breakfast for the men.

Komisarjevsky says he watched Hayes strangle Hawke-Petit as she begged for her life and claims he wanted to help her but "froze up."

During the ordeal, Komisarjevsky caught Hayley trying to escape and found her with a cell phone trying to text a friend or call police.

McDonald's other books include two memoirs, "My Father's Gun" and "Last Call at Elaine's." He is also a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers and teaches journalism and writing.
  • Sammy Saltzman

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