NEW HAVEN (CBS) While it took less than five hours for the jury to reach its verdict in the Steven Hayes home invasion trial, it felt a lot longer for members of the news media.
For weeks now we have been waking before dawn with a daily mission of laying claim to a seat in Room 6A of the New Haven Superior Court. The courtroom, the largest in the building, is ultimately far too small.
The working press - an assortment of local print and television reporters along with a sizable contingent from national media outlets - began gathering every morning in the foyer of the courthouse around 6:00 a.m.
At 7:45 the sliding glass doors open, and one by one we passed through metal detectors before boarding elevators to the 6th floor, where the line from downstairs was reconstituted, ideally in the same order. Then we waited again in the hallway outside the courtroom - some posting to Twitter accounts, some reading newspapers or books, some sending e-mails via Blackberrys.
About a half-hour later a representative of the court's external affairs office emerged from the far end of the hall. She was the bearer of numbered slips of paper. These "pink slips," given to the first seventeen reporters, guarantee a seat in the courtroom. On most days the remainder of the reporters eventually found seats in the three rows of seats assigned to the general public.
Before entering the courtroom around 9:30 a.m., there was one more stop for metal detectors and bag searchers.
The reporters stepped aside to allow the Petit and Hawke families to enter the room. And the day's proceedings began shortly after 10 a.m..
During the jury's deliberation we all stayed in our seats in the courtroom.
No one wanted to be shut out. No one wanted to leave the room.
The verdict might arrive at any time.
It was impossible, of course, to know what was happening behind the brown door adjacent to the witness stand. On a few occasions on Tuesday morning, the journalists perked up their ears and looked at each other. The garbled sound of raised voices could be heard from the deliberation room. Is that an argument? Is someone holding out?
The Twitter writers were excited. On a few occasions, there were knocks at the door, followed by notes with questions for the judge. When one such note emerged Monday afternoon, a reporter whispered that it felt like a verdict was coming. But actually the jury only wanted to ask the judge to define the phrase, "start a fire." "Is pouring gasoline starting a fire?" The judge told them it was not.
At 12:25 p.m. on Tuesday, a loud knock was heard from the brown door. The marshal entered the deliberation room and returned about thirty seconds later. This time he did not appear to be holding a note. When the judge entered the room he glanced at his watch and wrote the time of day on a piece of paper. Before long, the lawyers began to appear from the wings, and we were told that the jury had reached a verdict.
Steven Hayes entered the courtroom. He glanced at someone in the gallery and nodded. I was stunned. It seemed like he was looking directly at me, but someone told me later he was nodding at the courtroom sketch artist. As the jury foreman announced the "guilty" verdict on each of the counts but one, Hayes looked at him without emotion. He wore the same hollow expression he had shown throughout the trial. The charges were read out one after another. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Finally, at the sixteenth count, the arson charge, the foreman said "not guilty." Apparently, the State failed to prove that Hayes actually lit the match. And then it was over. Hayes was convicted of all but one of the seventeen charges, and all six of the capital felony charges - the ones that may bring him a death sentence.
The judge released the jury. In a little less than two weeks, on Monday, October 18, the ordeal will begin all over again with the penalty phase. The lines will form at the crack of dawn. The reporters will scramble for pink slips. And the family will bear witness to their own suffering.
Tuesday afternoon, in a cold drizzle, hundreds of cameras huddled around a small pack of microphones. Dr. Petit walked down the courthouse steps. He told us that he was grateful for the jury's service and that he would work hard to keep a positive outlook as he looked to the days and weeks of difficult testimony that lie ahead. He would try to think of the happy memories of his family. I looked at this poor man standing there in the mist. This man lost his family. All he has are memories. In that moment, waking before dawn, waiting in line, the quest for pink slips didn't seem so rough after all.
Lincoln Farr is a producer for 48 Hours | Mystery
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