September 19, 2011 / 11:25 PM / 9 years ago

Defense in Connecticut home invasion case aims to shift blame

NEW HAVEN, Conn (Reuters) - Attorneys for a man accused in a grisly home invasion sought on Monday to attach much of the blame on an accomplice, arguing he was the one who wanted to murder a mother and her two daughters.

Joshua Komisarjevsky is the second man charged in the 2007 killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, at their home in Cheshire, Connecticut.

The accomplice, Steven Hayes, was convicted of the murders last year and sentenced to death.

Komisarjevsky is charged with murder and with sexually assaulting the younger daughter before the home was set on fire with the girls, tied to their beds, and the body of Hawke-Petit inside. Hawke-Petit had been strangled to death.

Dr. William Petit was the sole survivor of the attack. He was hit in the head with a baseball bat and left unconscious while his wife and daughters were murdered.

Defense attorney Walter Bansley said it was Hayes who decided the family had to die, adding that Hayes wanted to “burn this house down.”

Komisarjevsky did not have a weapon and he protested against killing anyone, telling Hayes: “No one is dying by my hands today,” the defense attorney said in opening remarks in New Haven Superior Court before Judge Jon Blue.

The opening statements came in a packed courtroom, filled largely with Petit family supporters and the media.

The defense said Hayes was upset that Komisarjevsky had taken off his gloves, potentially leaving evidence, and called him by his first name, the defense said.

Prosecutors made no opening statement.

Komisarjevsky was dressed in a black suit and engaged with his lawyers throughout the day. His parents Benedict and Jude Komisarjevsky, who attended pretrial hearings and jury selection, were not in the courtroom.

Petit leaned forward and appeared to listen intently to the evidence, the same evidence he heard last year in Hayes’ case.

The doctor, who was bound in the basement but managed to free himself and escape to a neighbor’s home, was expected to take the witness stand on Tuesday.

He had also testified in Hayes’ trial, offering gruesome recollections of waking up to hear the intruders’ voices, bleeding heavily as he struggled to untie his hands and, finally, with his feet still tied, rolling on the lawn to his neighbor’s house as his home went up in flames.

Altogether, Komisarjevsky faces 17 charges, six of which have a maximum penalty of death.

Connecticut has only executed one person, in 2005, since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston

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