Six years ago, Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters were murdered by two strangers during a home invasion in Cheshire, Conn., while her husband, William Petit, was tied down in the basement. The horrific murders, in which Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes raped and strangled Jennifer, sexually abused her 11-year-old daughter and eventually set fire to the house are now the subject of an HBO documentary which aired this week.
"The Cheshire Murders" discusses accusations of police mismanagement -- officers waited outside while Petit family members were raped, abused and eventually killed -- but also examines the death penalty through the lens of family members who were impacted by the horrific crime.
Although Hayes and Komisarjevsky offered to plead guilty in exchange for permanent imprisonment, prosecutors pursued the death penalty on behalf of the family and, most significantly, our society’s sense of putting it right. (Both men were sentenced to death; it seems unlikely that it will be carried out.) Even if you’re firmly decided on this, arguments for and against executing the men are equally compelling.
A day after the documentary aired, The Hartford Courant obtained 41 audio recordings of phone calls to the Cheshire Police Department on the day of the murders, in which an officer tells a hostage negotiator not to report to the family's home.
The convicted killers' defense team is now considering whether to ask for another trial in light of the new evidence.
"We did not get them," attorney Walter Bansley said. "There is no doubt that if we were aware of those calls we would have tried to use them at trial and it would have made for a different defense.''
"Failure to disclose evidence is a big legal issue particularly in a death penalty case where judges allow almost everything in as evidence,'' Bansley said. "Is it grounds for a new trial? Or just a possible court sanction for not turning over evidence? That's what we are discussing now."