The few passages from accused triple murderer Joshua Komisarjevsky’s journal that were read into the court record this week were intended to draw attention away from his accomplice, Steven Hayes, who will be sentenced soon by a jury — possibly to death.
Those passages, in which Komisarjevsky’s calls the sole survivor of the murders a “coward” and describes the power he had over an 11-year-old girl he tied to the bed and masturbated on, made the already unfathomable crimes even more macabre.
Equally disturbing are the rest of the more than 50 pages of Komisarjevsky’s writings admitted as evidence for jurors to read. In small, single-spaced, handwritten prose, the world according to Komisarjevsky is part diary of a madman, part confession, part how-to burglary guide and, finally, part self analysis based in part on his recollection of being raped as a little boy.
There was something else from the journal that Hayes’ legal team did not read in open court: an elaboration of Komisarjevsky’s initial statement to police that Hayes was the one who racheted up the violence inside the Petit family’s Cheshire home in July 2007.
“When Steave took the life of Mrs. Petit he brought both of us to a whole different level,” Komisarjevsky wrote. “This was no longer just a simple robbery.”
Komisarjevsky, who misspells Hayes name throughout his journals, writes that he regrets not killing Hayes himself. He claims that if he had, the three Petit women — Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters — would have lived.
“I beat a man with a bat, emotionally scarred a girl, and frozen in my own indecision about whether or not to take Steave out did nothing to stop Mrs. Petit’s murder, and ultimately that of Michaela and Hayley as well,” Komisarjevsky wrote.
“I ran that police blockade at full speed hurling myself at death — I was subsequently cheated of my retribution toward Steave and my own escape through death’s imbrace everlasting,” Komisarjevsky said.
In his initial 75-page statement to police, Komisarjevsky said he was upstairs and went to a railing when he heard noises and then saw Hayes on top of Hawke-Petit, strangling her to death. He said that Hayes then turned to him and said: “… there could be no witnesses.”
Komisarjevsky told police Hayes then got the gas cans and started pouring gasoline on Hawke-Petit and then up the stairs to the girls’ bedrooms.
Komisarjevsky never told police or revealed in his journals who lit the match. Hayes’ attorneys have not said who ignited the gasoline either. But they have gone out of their way to paint Komisarjevsky as the ringleader, and the person who escalated the violence by telling Hayes he had raped Michaela and that Hayes needed to do the same to Hawke-Petit to “make it square.”
The person who lit the match may not matter to the jury that will decide whether Hayes gets the death penalty, just as the attempt to paint Komisarjevsky as the ringleader may backfire.
“A jury could well conclude that among the gradations of evil there is a class of folks warranting death, and, while Mr. Komisarjevsky may be at the head of the class, Mr. Hayes remains an honor student,” Bethany attorney Norm Pattis wrote in his legal blog.
What is clear is that Hayes had at least three occasions to walk away from 300 Sorghum Mill Road before anyone was killed.
Shortly after they broke into the home, beat Dr. William Petit Jr. with the baseball bat and tied everyone else to their beds, Hayes and Komisarjevsky left the house to move their truck away from the Petit home to a condominium complex about a mile away. Police believe they were out of the house for close to an hour.
A few hours later, Hayes drove off to fill up gas cans and taking the time to return to his own truck in the Stop & Shop parking lot to put some of the Petit girls’ things in the front seat. Hayes got lost trying to return to the house and had to call Komisarjevsky for directions.
Hayes’ third opportunity to leave came when he took Hawke-Petit to the bank and she withdrew $15,000 cash. The bank was in the same parking lot as his truck.
That Judge Jon Blue allowed Komisarjevsky’s journals to be entered as evidence doesn’t surprise seasoned defense attorneys. While the journals clearly would have been inadmissible as evidence at a regular trial, the death penalty phase of a trial has different boundaries.
“The death penalty lowers the threshold of what a judge will allow in as evidence and that’s the only way this stuff comes into evidence,” said New Haven attorney William F. Dow. “The worst thing a judge can do is give an issue to the defense that can lead to a retrial.”
Dow called Komisarjevsky’s writings “chilling” and speculated that the decision by Hayes’ attorney to introduce them was a gamble, perhaps because the defense didn’t have much else to work with.
“Usually in these cases they find that maybe Hayes’ mother killed his pet rabbit when he was 6 and he never got over it or he had a horrible childhood, but there apparently isn’t anything like that here,” Dow said.
Komisarjevsky’s childhood is likely to be raised. He was raped when he was 6 by a foster child his parents had taken in. The records of that case have long been sealed, but Komisarjevsky refers to it several times in his writings. He recalls being 9 years old, standing in a grocery store line with his mother, when a woman looked at him and told him “he had the face of an angel child and the eyes of an old soul.”
“Month upon month my private horror show went unnoticed at an impressionable age of childhood innocence six years young,” Komisarjevsky wrote. “When other children were experiencing the world’s magic and life’s simple games, I was baptized in humanity’s inhumanity.”
Komisarjevsky wrote that he never “healed” from the sexual assaults and that a rage built up inside him that was unleashed when he attacked Petit with the baseball bat.
“What I was not prepared for was the combination of my demons getting the better of me juxtaposed with my failure to accurately account for the temperament(al) disposition of my codefendant under high pressure,” he wrote.
“Not much pleases me more than a well executed strategy to achieve an objective and if things went to hell and you had to slug it out so be it. It’s a time to summon a dark relish for mayhem,” Komisarjevsky wrote. “It was that depth of darkness I was not prepared for once unleashed and dedicated to the task at hand. It’s one thing to rob or suppress other traffickers and dealers and quite another to rob an innocent family.”
Komisarjevsky acknowledged that the original plans to get in and out of the Petit house quickly changed when he beat Petit with the baseball bat while Hayes stood outside a window watching.
“Steave knocked on the window to my right pulling me back to the moment where time had meaning and was of the essence. Too much noise had been made and an unknown number of people were unaccounted for,” he wrote.
Komisarjevsky said he interrogated Petit, determining that he had a wife and two daughters, what rooms they were in, that the house alarm was disarmed and that there was no remote emergency button in the master bedroom.
In his testimony during the guilt phase of Hayes’ trial, Petit recalled the pain of getting smashed unexpectedly in the head with the bat and of blood pouring down his face before he lost consciousness. He did not remember talking to either of his attackers.
Komisarjevsky claims he may have saved Petit’s life “by applying a makeshift pressure dressing to his wounds.”
“I wonder why I even bothered,” he wrote.
There has been no evidence that either Komisarjevsky or Hayes tried to help Petit, only that they took him downstairs and tied him to a pole.
While the two criminals point at each other as the catalyst for unleashing the violence that killed the three Petit women, they agree on one point: Both seemed resigned to death.
Hayes has tried to kill himself at least twice, while Komisarjevsky refers many times to his “anticipated death sentence that will be a state sanctioned murder of mercy.”
“I’m not proud of the outcome of July 23, 2007. No one was supposed to lose their lives, however, I’m not surprised by the end result of human depravity,” Komisarjevsky wrote. “The knowledge gained came at a heavy cost — my shadow now has a name — repression. My self destruction was almost absolute.”