NEW HAVEN — The prosecution of two men charged in the 2007 Cheshire home-invasion killings — a crime that influenced the Connecticut legislature as it abandoned efforts this year to repeal the death penalty — reached yet another milestone Tuesday with the end of jury selection in the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky.
The first defendant in the case, Steven Hayes, already faces death by lethal injection after a jury last year convicted him of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11.
Now, with a jury seated, Komisarjevsky is scheduled to stand trial Sept. 19 for the three killings and the brutal beating of the attack's lone survivor, Dr. William Petit Jr., Hawke-Petit's husband and the girls' father.
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Cheshire, Cheshire Village, CT 06410, USA
Filling the last vacancy on Komisarjevsky's jury was a North Haven woman who is a substitute teacher and is active in community theater. The woman, one of three backup alternates, on Tuesday joined a panel that also comprises 12 regular jurors and six alternates.
After 47 days of jury selection and the polling of more than 1,300 prospective jurors, Judge Jon C. Blue seemed pleased with the results.
"We have an excellent jury," he said, adding that he felt "very privileged to have them."
As the session drew to an end earlier this month, efforts to repeal Connecticut's death penalty lost steam, and the issue never went to a vote in the full House or Senate. The issue awaits a future legislative session.
Petit and his sister, Joanna Petit Chapman, both of whom support the death penalty, managed to keep abreast of events in New Haven and Hartford. Both rarely missed a day of jury selection, but both also kept up with — and tried to sway — the death penalty debate.
At one point, Petit visited Sens. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, and Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, who had planned to vote for repeal. After his visit, both said they would no longer support the repeal effort — reversals cited as keys to the bill's failure.
Petit Chapman said that although she and her family wishes the issue had gone to a vote and had been defeated, she was heartened by some legislators' willingness to listen to her and her brother after facing "many closed doors" and "blank stares" from others.
"We certainly didn't strong-arm anybody," Petit Chapman said. "We simply pleaded our case."
Petit Chapman said she was impressed with the jury.
"We're relieved that this phase is complete," she said.
Hawke-Petit was raped and strangled during the July 23, 2007, home invasion. Hayley and Michaela were bound to their beds before their deaths from smoke inhalation. Michaela was also sexually assaulted, according to police and court testimony. Petit escaped before the house went up in flames.
If convicted, Komisarjevsky, 30, faces the death penalty.
Jury selection was expected to be a lengthy process in the Komisarjevsky case not only because of the severity of the crime and the widespread publicity it and the recent Hayes trial generated, but also because attorneys in Connecticut Superior Court cases can use the individual voir dire system to poll jurors.
Jury selection in Hayes' case took 48 days to complete. More than 1,300 prospective jurors were polled by prosecutors and defense attorneys who had to choose 12 regular jurors, six alternates and two backup alternates for that trial.