The morning of July 23, 2007 will remain in the minds of residents of Cheshire, Conn. for years. As flames flew in the early morning sky that day from the suburban home of the Petit family, two unknown men attempted to flee the scene, almost running over a police officer. When the fire subsided and police investigated the house, they discovered a grisly scene of torture, sexual assault and murder.
Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky are the alleged murders in what many news outlets considered the most publicized crime in Connecticut's history. The plan was simple. Hayes and Komisarjevsky would pick a target, follow him or her to their house, take the money and run. However, simple plans often take deadly turns.
After four years, this saga will be come to a close. Hayes was found guilty at his trial and sentenced to death, while Komisarjevsky, also found guilty, is waiting for his sentence. However, Cheshire residents are still left wondering how such a brutal crime could occur in their humble suburb of New Haven, Conn.
Devolution into Chaos
The duo had chosen the Petit's randomly, spotting them at local grocery store. They allegedly sent text messages to each other, saying how excited they were about the crime.
One of the things I found is that the people involved in crimes that escalate are involved in sensation, risk taking, said Dr. Jeffrey Smalldon to Ineternational Business Times' Crimes of New York. Smalldon is a forensic psychologist, who has worked on over 300 death penalty cases. He is an expert in his field and has analyzed the criminal minds for the past 20 years. There is an adrenaline surge, there is an opportunity and they decide to do something that was not intended.
Smalldon had said through his analysis and years of work, crimes could escalate because of a surge of adrenaline in the criminals. People can receive almost a euphoric high from an increase of adrenaline during a crime. This can lead to deadly consequences.
Sometimes there is a sort of an incremental level of transgressive euphoria, for lack of a better term, that accompanies attacks, said Smalldon. The men claimed that they had only wanted to steal money from their victims, the Petit's. However, three members of the Petit family were found dead, with Dr. William Petit as the lone survivor. Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, Hayley Petit, 17, and Michaela Petit, 11, were tortured and murdered in the botched robbery that made national headlines. Police also discovered that Mrs. Petit and Michaela had been sexually assaulted.
The two men had several departures from the norms of society. They were both out on parole for previous crimes. Smalldon mentioned that people who have a history of criminal behavior, are more likely to escalate their violence, with each passing crime.
That's one of the first things you look for a history of rule breaking behavior, said Smalldon. It is often the case that the trajectory of criminal behavior escalates over time.
Dr. William Petit testified at the trials of both Hayes and Komisarjevsky. He had given a chilling account about what occurred in the household as a result of the brutal actions of the pair. He testified that he remembers waking tied up in his basement with blood dripping down his head. Prosecutors say he had been beaten unconscious with a bat while he slept. He recounted that he heard screams from his family as Hayes and Kmoisarjevsky tortured and sexual assaulted Petit's wife and daughters.
Don't worry. It's all going to be over in a couple of minutes, said Petit, as reported by the New York Times. Eventually he was able to brake from his binds and escaped the house as it was being set ablaze. He ran to a neighbor's house for seeking help and safety, where the neighbor reportedly found Petit bruised and bloody in the driveway.
Defense lawyers for Komisarjevsky tried to present a case of a tortured soul. They claimed he grew up in a broken home where he was sexually molested.
A lot of times people, who are abused as children, have not grown up with a capacity that we associate as normal functioning, said Smalldon. They kind of devalue the person's own life and the lives of other people. However, Smalldon also said that this is in no way a defense.
Most people are pretty jaded on a child-abuse defense, he said. It is obviously not a justification for a crime.
As the prosecutors continued their case, it was revealed that the Hayes and Komisarjevsky had forced Mrs. Petit to withdraw $15,000 from the bank. It was here that she alerted a bank teller that her family was being held hostage at their home. When she returned to the house, she was raped and strangled to death. By this time, the two daughters were already tied up in their bedrooms. In a panic, the duo set the house on fire, trying to flee the scene. The young girls, unable to break free, succumbed to smoke inhalation.
Their Actions Justify Their Departure from This Earth
I don't think you can close the chapter on this. Obviously the Petit family will have to deal with this, said Councilman Tim Slocum to IBTimes. Slocum is chairman of Cheshire's Town Council and Honorary Mayor. I don't think time erases some of those memories.
Slocum believes Hayes and Komisarjevsky should not be granted any leniency from the jury. He said the family had such great promise to do great things and Hayes and Komisarjevsky ended those chances.
I just hope our justice system doesn't make a travesty of it to let this man walk away from the gallows, he said. Their actions justify their departure from this Earth.
Although the Dr. Petit had endured several torturous hours on that fateful day, he has to go through the rest of his life without his wife and children. Still, Slocum believes Dr. Petit can persevere through the pain and the loss.
He can rise above it, the hell he endures, said Slocum.