Petit Family Murder: Conn. Man's Trial to Open in Fatal Home Invasion

Conn Man Trial To Open In Fatal Home Invasion
Dr. William Petit and his family. (Personal Photo)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CBS/WFSB/AP) The Petits were a model family living in an affluent suburb.

The suburb of Cheshire, Conn., seemed like the perfect place for Dr. William Petit and his wife to raise their two lovely daughters

But a chance encounter with a career criminal at a supermarket in July 2007 destroyed the family, according to authorities.

Joshua Komisarjevsky spotted Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters at the store and followed them home, then returned later with his friend Steven Hayes and together they severely beat Petit and killed his wife and daughters, police say.

Hayes heads to trial this week.

Both defendants have offered to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences, but prosecutors, seeking the death penalty for both, pushed for trials, defense attorneys said, forcing the state to revisit the unsettling crime and its lone survivor to relive it in the courtroom.

Dr. Petit is scheduled to testify early in the trial, which is expected to last about a month.

After a recent court hearing, he said he welcomed hearing the names of his wife and daughters in court.

"Most of the process tends to be one of depersonalization," Petit said. "I was actually pleased to hear their names to show it was personal, they were people, living people."

Hayes and Komisarjevsky, two paroled burglars, are accused of beating and tying up Dr. Petit, taking his family hostage and forcing his wife to withdraw money from a bank.

Hayes, 47, is accused of sexually assaulting and strangling Hawke-Petit. Komisarjevsky, 30, is charged with sexually assaulting 11-year-old Michaela. The two allegedly tied Michaela and her 17-year-old sister, Hayley, to their beds, poured gasoline on and around them and set the house on fire, killing the girls, authorities say.

Dr. Petit managed to escape.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky fled the burning home in the family's car and were caught after ramming several police cruisers, authorities said. Hayes was wearing Hayley's school cap, police say.

The pair, each with more than 20 burglaries on their records, had spent time in the same Hartford halfway house. At the time of the killings, both were free on parole after serving time for 2003 burglary convictions.

Hayes' murder trial starts Monday in New Haven Superior Court. If the jury convicts Hayes, the same panel will weigh his fate in the penalty phase. Once the Hayes case is finished, Komisarjevsky's will be scheduled.

Complete Coverage of the Petit Family Murders on Crimesider.