Before July 2007, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky had nonviolent criminal records. Then one night they got together — and in the end, three women were dead in a home invasion that involved rape, strangulation and burning people alive.
Criminal profilers and psychology experts agree: When Hayes, 47, of Winsted, and Komisarjevsky, 30, of Cheshire, became partners in crime, the violence magnified in a way it wouldn’t have if either had acted alone.
“With the two men together, the damage increased,” said Mark Safarik, who is retired from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, where he worked as a senior profiler. “You get an exacerbation of what would happen if they acted individually.”
Dr. William Petit Jr. was beaten with a baseball bat but survived the July 2007 home invasion in Cheshire. His wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, was raped and strangled, and the couple’s two daughters, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, were tied to beds, doused with gasoline and set on fire. Both girls died of smoke inhalation, the medical examiner said. Prior to her death, Michaela was sexually assaulted.
The two men charged with the crime are fathers themselves.
Hayes was convicted Oct. 5 in Superior Court in New Haven of 16 counts related to the home invasion. On Monday, jurors will begin deciding whether Hayes should get the death penalty.
Komisarjevsky is scheduled to go on trial next year. He has pleaded not guilty, but earlier this year offered to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison without parole.
Before the Cheshire home invasion, both men had criminal records, but they were mostly for drug or theft-related crimes.
Neither had any prior sex offenses. Hayes was convicted of raping Hawke-Petit, and Komisarjevsky allegedly sexually assaulted Michaela.
In the past, the men acted alone. They met at a halfway house after serving prison stints, and when they got together, things turned deadly.
“It is unfortunate. When you put these two guys together, they bolstered each other, minimized the morally wrong aspects of it and validated each other’s negative behavior, and you see a crime like this,” Safarik said.
Safarik cited other cases where two people joined to commit horrific crimes, such as Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, who abducted, tortured, raped and killed several people in California in the early 1980s. Two other men, Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, together kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered five women in 1979, also in California.
“Typically, you have a leader and a follower,” Safarik said. “Someone is always the guy in charge.”
The first phase of Hayes’ trial gave some insight into the crime, motive and how it escalated.
During closing arguments, State’s Attorney Michael Dearington said the two men conspired to break into a home, tie up its occupants, steal money and “get out fast.” Dearington said Hayes had told Komisarjevsky he was desperate for money.
Hayes gave a statement to police claiming Komisarjevsky broke into the house, then beat William Petit with a baseball bat. Hayes told police the two men tied up William Petit, then ransacked the downstairs, but found little of value. They went upstairs and saw Hawke-Petit and Michaela sleeping in the master bedroom. Hayes said they tied Hawke-Petit to her bed and took Michaela to her bedroom and tied her to the bedposts there.
According to Dearington, the plan changed when the two intruders found a bank book showing up to $40,000. Hayes drove Hawke-Petit to the bank and she withdrew $15,000, while alerting a teller to the home invasion. A bank manager called 911.
Hayes said when he returned to the house with Hawke-Petit, Komisarjevsky said he had “had sex” with Michaela, and that Hayes needed to “square things up” by raping Hawke-Petit. Hayes told investigators he reluctantly did so, then followed Komisarjevsky’s order to strangle her, according to Dearington. The house was set on fire just before the two men fled and were captured by police.
Hayes’ lawyer, New Haven Chief Public Defender Thomas Ullmann, told jurors it was Komisarjevsky who “at every critical juncture, when the plan changed … escalated the level of violence.”
According to Safarik, usually, there are multiple motives for crimes, and the motivations rise and fall during the offense.
“Clearly, you don’t have to sexually assault or kill someone to take their money,” Safarik said. “Something else is driving this — there is a sexual component to this crime.”
HISTORY OF CRIME
Both men had records for theft, with Komisarjevsky repeatedly breaking into homes.
According to Safarik, while it might not seem like a sexual crime, “often there is a sexual component to burglary. … There is a sense of power to walk around in someone’s house without them being aware of it.”
Safarik said he thinks the desire to get money was likely a secondary motivation.
“The intent is to capture and sexually assault, and money is a secondary motive,” Safarik said. “I think the preliminary motive is to control, dominate and sexually assault these females.”
Kevin Colwell, associate professor of psychology at Southern Connecticut State University, agreed that the men’s behavior escalated because they acted together.
“I don’t think (Hayes) would have raped and killed if he had been acting alone,” Colwell said. “If Hayes had been alone, I think he would have gotten what (valuables) he could get and left.”
According to Colwell, Hayes was a drug user, and cases involving narcotics usually don’t lead to violence except when someone is cheated in a drug deal.
“I think (Hayes) went along to get money for drugs, and the younger one is a sexual predator who specifically picked the victims due to attraction,” Colwell said. “A lot of times in the case of people with deviant sexual fantasies, things escalate. I think the violence happened because of Joshua Komisarjevsky.”
Komisarjevsky had spotted Hawke-Petit and Michaela at the Cheshire Stop & Shop and followed them home the day before the crime.
According to Colwell, it can be difficult to predict violence.
“Usually, you’d look for past violence or coercion to get sex,” Colwell said.
Most sex offenders first engage in behavior like exhibitionism, fondling and voyeurism, according to Colwell.
“Most stop, and a small subset fondle people and force themselves on people,” Colwell said. “Without evidence he had done those things, it is very hard to predict.”
Colwell said he believes Hayes has an impulse-control disorder, fueled by his desire to get drugs. Colwell said he believes Komisarjevsky was physically attracted to Michaela, and gained excitement by having power over others.
“He has some desire or need to have lots of power over other people,” Colwell said, adding that he had a long history of breaking into homes while people were sleeping. “For him, it was about power, people are very vulnerable when they are asleep.”
According to state Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee and a professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, Hayes’ criminal record goes back about 25 years, but “It’s all minor stuff, like breaking into cars, drugs and illegal possession of a weapon.”
“I don’t believe there’s anything in his history at all that would indicate he’s a violent guy, or broke into houses, or sexual assault. Nothing like that,” Lawlor said of Hayes.
Hayes has offenses dating back to 1980. He was sentenced in 2003 to five years in prison for third-degree burglary, after he broke into a vehicle and stole a purse in New Hartford.
Hayes has a rap sheet that includes possession of marijuana, issuing a bad check, larceny, forgery, burglary and stealing a firearm, for example. His file shows a history of substance abuse, with daily crack cocaine use and frequent use of alcohol and marijuana.
Hayes stole a car in 1996. He made a statement that he had been using crack cocaine with a prostitute, he was broke and needed money, so he broke into a vehicle, grabbed the purse, found keys, stole the vehicle and went and used more cocaine. Hayes told police he broke into vehicles to get money to get more drugs. Hayes also admitted stealing a vehicle in Torrington in 1982.
There is one hint of past violence in Hayes’ file: He went into punitive segregation for a prison assault in 1992, his records show.
Komisarjevsky, meanwhile, who served one stint in prison, had all the warning signs of being “a very dangerous, very disturbed, high-risk guy,” Lawlor said.
Komisarjevsky was 22 years old in 2002 when he was sentenced to nine years in prison, with six years special parole for several counts of burglary and larceny for a string of house break-ins. He was granted parole in April 2007.
In February 2002, state police investigating a house burglary in Burlington looked at Komisarjevsky as a suspect after he was identified by a pawn shop employee as having pawned several of the items reported stolen. According to an arrest warrant affidavit, when police searched his Bristol home in March 2002, they discovered stolen items from the Burlington home as well as numerous other items reported missing from a series of nighttime burglaries in Cheshire, Bristol and Farmington.
They also seized a burglary kit containing tools and equipment commonly used by burglars to force entry into homes, including night vision equipment.
According to the affidavit, Komisarjevsky admitted to committing the Burlington burglary in addition to about 21 other burglaries. He agreed to have police drive him around Farmington, Cheshire and Bristol so he could point out the homes he had entered.
According to an affidavit written in March 2002 by a Bristol detective, Komisarjevsky said he always committed these burglaries at night. He said he used night vision equipment and carried a green Army backpack that had his tools, night vision equipment, and a knife he used to cut screens with. He said he always avoided contact with people and always wore latex gloves.
Komisarjevsky told police he broke into a home in Bristol that belonged to a state trooper. He entered through a window and took two pairs of boots, two uniform shirts and the trooper’s hat, as well as a flashlight and pepper spray.
STEALING FOR DRUGS
Komisarjevsky said he would steal to support his crystal methamphetamine habit, according to his parole file, and he also habitually used cocaine.
Lawlor said the burglaries Komisarjevsky committed were unusual in that he only broke into occupied homes at night. Documents show Komisarjevsky first broke into a house at age 14.
Lawlor said Komisarjevsky was also sexually assaulted by foster children brought into the home by his adoptive parents. He didn’t learn he was adopted until his teens, which also “messed him up,” Lawlor said.
Komisarjevsky’s defense attorney at his December 2002 sentencing in Superior Court in Bristol, William Gerace, said Komisarjevsky suffered from attention deficit disorder, dyslexia and dysgraphia. He had past suicide attempts and overdoses. Komisarjevsky had also suffered eight concussions, Gerace said, and as a result his family observed a “progressive personality deterioration.”
According to Gerace, Komisarjevsky had been prescribed anti-depressive medication, but his family “thought that was a crutch” and brought him to a faith program instead. His mother, Jude Komisarjevsky, said at his sentencing that the family refused the drugs because Joshua “wanted to overdose with them.”
“If you put all of this stuff together, you can see smart, manipulative, crazy, dangerous. That’s a recipe for disaster. All of this stuff was well known to the prosecutor and the judge who handled his case at the time of the sentencing” for the 2002 burglaries, Lawlor said.
Even Komisarjevsky’s defense attorney, Gerace, said at the sentencing, “I have a feeling, Judge, he’s (Komisarjevsky) either going to be a career criminal or never come back here again. I don’t think there’s any middle road here.”
He added, “So what I’m trying to suggest to the court is that there’s a mental abnormality here or psychiatric problem that needs to be addressed, over and above the drug abuse and drug addiction.”
In sentencing Komisarjevsky, Judge James Bentivegna said, “You don’t seem to be somebody that’s, in terms of committing burglaries, an addict just trying to get money for a quick fix. What you do seem like is somebody who is a predator, a calculated, cold-blooded predator that decided that nighttime residential burglaries were your way to make money.”
He ordered Komisarjevsky to undergo substance abuse and mental health evaluation.
But when Komisarjevsky went away to prison, none of the information about his troubled past was sent to the Department of Correction, Lawlor said. All they knew is that Komisarjevsky was serving his first prison sentence for nonviolent crimes. He was a model inmate, smart and polite, playing by all the rules, Lawlor said.
“When he comes up for parole, he seems like a model parolee. … His parents say he can come live with us. We have a job for him when he gets out. Those are all the objective criteria that make you score very high for risk assessment,” he said.
Lawlor argued that had the Department of Correction received all the critical information about Komisarjevsky’s character and past behavior, they would have treated him differently in prison, considered him differently for parole, and supervised him more closely upon his release.
Lawlor said state law requires all that information to be sent to the Department of Correction, but an investigation by the legislature after the Cheshire home invasion found this rarely happened. He said the legislature passed a bill to change this.
Lawlor said in reviewing all the information, it’s clear to him that “Komisarjevsky is the serious, dangerous bad guy and manipulative guy who probably came up with the whole idea. The older guy (Hayes) was probably just following along. … The question is, would he have done such a thing if not for Komisarjevsky being right there?”