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Connecticut Home Invasion: Could Steven Hayes Escape Execution?

Connecticut Home Invasion: Could Steven Hayes Escape Execution?
Petit Family (Personal Photo)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CBS/AP) Tom Ullmann, the attorney for paroled burglar Steven Hayes, who was found guilty in the ghastly 2007 deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, managed to spare a man's life who faced the death penalty six years ago, and there's a chance that in 11 days he could do the same for Hayes.

PICTURES: The Petit Family

The five men and seven women who found Hayes guilty in the gruesome home invasion deaths will reconvene for the penalty phase Oct. 18 to determine whether he will receive life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.

A jury faced with the same question in 2004, and was apparently convinced by Ullman that a man's difficult childhood and remorse outweighed the fact that he fatally stabbed a woman and her two young children in their sleep for drug money.

"He's really great," said Georgianna Mills, whose son Jonathan was convicted of those killings in Guilford, Conn. "He did everything he had to do to get Jon off."

The jury apparently went easy on Mills because of his history of drug abuse, something that Hayes, 47, reportedly has in common and that is likely to be discussed in sentencing arguments.

Connecticut has only executed one person since 1960, but it may still be a tough battle for Hayes' attorneys to evade the death penalty sentence.

"I think the defense is going to have an uphill fight given what we know about the nature of the crimes," said William Dunlap, a criminal law professor at Quinnipiac University.

Prosecutors said that Hayes, along with Joshua Komisarjevsky, broke into the Petit home in July, 2007, beat Dr. William Petit and tied him up in the basement. They then tied 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela to their beds and forced Jennifer Hawke-Petit to drive to a bank and withdraw a large amount of money before Hayes raped and strangled her, and allegedly set the house on fire.

Dr. Petit, the sole survivor of the gruesome home invasion, stood outside New Haven Superior Court just minutes after the jury reached its verdict.

"We hope they will continue to use the same diligence and clarity of thought as they consider agreements in the penalty phase of the trial," he said.

Criminal defense attorney John Walkley, who has represented clients in at least six death penalty cases, said the jury may have a difficult time weighing the arguments "because they always have in the back of their minds just how terrible this crime was."

During Hayes' trial Ullmann portrayed him as a petty thief and blamed Komisarjevsky for turning the robbery into a night of violence and rape; however, prosecutors rejected the defense's argument and claimed that the two men were equally responsible for the horrific murders. Hayes' attorneys also noted that their client, who has been on anti-psychotic medication, has been on suicide watch for his attempt to take his own life before the trail.

"It might be evidence of remorse. It could be evidence of mental instability," said Dunlap in listing possible points that the defense may raise in an effort to keep Hayes off the execution table.

Hayes was convicted in 16 of the 17 charges against him, including six capital felony charges, three murder counts and two charges of sexually assaulting Hawke-Petit. He was acquitted of arson because testimony indicated he poured gas on the stairs, but it was unclear who started the fire.

Komisarjevsky faces a separate capital murder trial, which is expected to begin next year, for his role in the murders in addition to the charge of sexually assaulting Michaela. Hayes' attorney claims that Komisarjevsky escalated the violence and was the mastermind of the invasion.

Komisarjevsky also faces the death penalty by lethal injection if convicted.