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Home Invasion Suspects Face Murder Charges

Two men accused of killing and raping a physician's wife and two daughters, beating him severely, and setting fire to their home could face the death penalty if convicted.

Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes were charged with six capital felony counts in the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters during a home invasion, New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington said Thursday. They previously were charged with assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, arson and other counts in Monday's attack.

The seeming randomness of the attack has scared residents around the normally peaceful New Haven suburb of Cheshire, with its upper-middle class neighborhoods and Colonial homes with well-kept lawns.

Residents are lining up for gun safety classes so they can buy firearms, said Scott Hoffman, owner of Hoffman's Gun Center in nearby Newington.

"You talk to these people and you can see it's hit home, this particular crime," he said. "It's the sheer grotesqueness of the crime and the fact that it's such a normal family."

A police source close to the investigation confirmed reports that Komisarjevsky and Hayes spotted Jennifer Hawke-Petit and one of her daughters at a grocery store Sunday and followed their car home.

Police gave family members the same account, said Glenn Petit, Hawke-Petit's brother-in-law.

"They were attracted to the car," he told The Associated Press, though he was not sure what model Hawke-Petit was driving. "They liked the car, followed her home, thought she lived in a nice house."

Charles Turnier, whose home had been burglarized by Komisarjevsky in 2002, said that police told him that Komisarjevsky had been watching his family for days before the crime.

"When police questioned him, he told them he studied our routine by hiding in the bushes. He knew when my wife left the home," Turnier told CBS affiliate WFSB-TV.

Authorities say the men broke into the home of Dr. William Petit Jr. early Monday and held the family hostage for several hours. One of them forced Hawke-Petit to make a withdrawal at a bank later that morning, triggering suspicion among bank employees, police said.

Police were notified and rushed to the Petits' home, where they encountered the fleeing suspects and found the family's home ablaze. Petit, who remained in stable condition at St. Mary's Hospital on Thursday, had been beaten and bound in the basement but managed to escape the fire. The bodies of his wife and their daughters — 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela — were found inside.

"He's doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances," Glenn Petit said of his brother. "Emotionally, he's a mess. He is stunned right now. He's had his family taken from him."

More than 100 neighbors held a candlelight vigil outside the Petit home Thursday night, reports the Waterbury Republican-American. They wept, prayed and sang "Amazing Grace."

"I think a lot of people are asking how God could let this happen," neighbor Kevin Mahan told the paper.

Three white bows hung on trees outside the home. Flowers were also placed at the sign outside Dr. Petit's medical office.

The suspects were caught after they crashed their getaway vehicle — the Petits' car — into three police cruisers. Komisarjevsky, 26, and Hayes, 44, were each being held on $15 million bond.

Convicted burglars with lengthy criminal records, they were out on parole when the attack occurred. They had been roommates for a time at a drug treatment center and halfway house in Hartford last year.

Komisarjevsky is a member of a prominent family in the stage arts. He is the grandson of Theodore Komisarjevsky, a Russian theater director and designer, and Ernestine Stodelle, a former dancer, dance critic, author and studio director.

"It was a monstrous, deranged act, beyond comprehension," his family said in a statement released Thursday.

"We cannot and will not condone anything the accused have done. Justice needs to take place," the family said. "We can add nothing more — simply to repeat how tragic this is and how much our thoughts and prayers go out to the Petit family and friends."

Chris Komisarjevsky said in his statement that his nephew was adopted by Ben and Jude Komisarjevsky, who he said are both very religious. He said that his nephew was estranged from his family while in prison for five years.

Komisarjevsky lived a few miles from the Petits, but it was not clear if there was any connection between them.

Hawke-Petit, 48, was strangled and her daughters died of smoke inhalation, according to the state medical examiner. The mother and younger daughter were sexually assaulted, according to arrest documents.

Private funerals were being held Friday. A memorial service was scheduled for Saturday at Central Connecticut State University.

The crime has prompted the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Parole to review its policies. Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Thursday she wants an in-depth review of the state's procedures for charging, sentencing and releasing criminals.

"I think the entire parole process seems to be in shambles," Sen. Sam Caligiuri, who district includes Cheshire, told the Hartford Courant.

Neither suspect had any history of violent crimes when they were paroled this spring, though Komisarjevsky had committed a string of burglaries where he wore military night vision goggles and burglarized homes while the occupants slept.

Caligiuri said many of his constituents feel burglar is a violent crime.

"You're breaking into someone's private domain," Caligiuri said. "It should be their sanctuary."

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