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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

The murder trial of Komisarjevsky

On July 22, 2007, a crime of unspeakable magnitude unfolded in a suburban home in Cheshire, Connecticut. Most families in the area were going about their everyday lives, weaving their normal routines in with specific notable events. As with any neighbourhood, some families had lived in the neighbourhood for years and knew the one another well, while prospective homeowners were in the initial stages of home ownership and beginning to bring their dream of suburban bliss to fruition. Cheshire was a lovely place to call home, and there was no reason to suspect that this day would any different to any other in the town in Connecticut. That night in late July, the Petit family went about a standard night at home, early evening fell into late night. Bill Petit had fallen asleep on the sunroom sofa downstairs. His wife, Jen, was asleep upstairs, as were his two daughters. As he drifted off to sleep, little did Bill know that the reality he would awaken to early the next morning would be starkly different to the one that he was falling asleep in. The following morning, his family home would burst into flames, taking the lives of all in his family but himself. As the home and family he loved so much was lost forever, two near-immediate arrests ensued and the unfathomable legal case that would make headlines across the world, was ignited.

On the night of July 22, 2017, two men that had previous criminal convictions entered a home with the intent to burgle the owners as they slept. Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky broke in, and bound Bill Petit by his wrists and his ankles as he slept. At around 3:00 AM in the morning, Bill began to snap awake, aware only of the excruciating pain pounding through his skull. Barely able to see, Bill came to the realisation that he was tied up, unable to move, and that he could barely see because the baseball bat that he was being beaten in the head with was causing blood to seep down his face and into his eyes. The men continued to beat him, asking where his safe was. When Bill told them that he did not have a safe, they proceeded to leave him profusely bleeding, to ransack the home. As he sat on the ground, tied to a pole in his own home, Petit was losing blood at an alarming rate. Upstairs, his wife and daughters were also in grave danger, tied to their beds with pillow cases over their heads.

After ransacking the home, the two men found a check book in alliance with a bank. They hatched a plan to drive Jen Petit to the bank in the morning as it opened and withdraw $15,000. However, as Jen walked up to the teller at the bank the following morning, shockingly calm, she told the teller that she and her family were being held captive and she needed to withdraw $15,000 or they would all be killed. Despite insufficient funds in the Petit’s bank account, the teller withdrew the money anyway, handed it to Jen Petit, and proceeded to call 911. It was this action that resulted in the men responsible for the violent crime being caught. Back at the home, Bill Petit had managed to get free by repeatedly standing up and sitting down against the pole he was tied to, effectively knowing through the ties until he was able to slowly and painfully drag himself out of the house to his neighbours to raise the alarm. Unaware that Bill had managed to escape, as the men and Mrs Petit got back to the home, they took her back upstairs, where Hayes violently sexually assaulted her and strangled her, and Komisarjevsky assaulted the youngest daughter of the Petits. Dousing the young girls in fuel, Hayes then lit them on fire, and they attempted to run for it, money in hand. At the same time, the police pulled up and caught them as they were attempting to flee the scene – timing that would not have been possible if it were not for the quick thinking of the bank teller that gave Mrs Petit the money earlier that morning.

The crime was so disturbingly gripping, that it spurred on months of publicity and an eventual book release. It has since become a common case study used by legal recuiters in job interviews. Long, graphic trials followed the arrests, and Bill sat through every day, reliving the awful day (and learning new, horrific details of the crime) as he awaited the final verdict. When the time came in January 2010, Hayes was convicted on sixteen of seventeen counts, and sentenced to six death sentences and an additional one hundred and six years. In 2011, Komisarjevsky’s trial lasted less than a month, when he was convicted on all seventeen counts – including six capital felonies – and sentenced to death for his crimes. In a twisted turn, the death sentences were overruled under new legislation, and both Hayes and Komisarjevsky are instead serving life behind bars after help from a wrongful death lawyer.

Komisarjevsky’s sentence was Komisarjevsky has attempted, by writing, to make his side of the story heard. In March 2012, Komisarjevsky’s defence filed for a new trial on the grounds that the jury was influenced by the high publicity of the case. Despite his attempts, he remains in prison where he will remain until the day he dies, as will Hayes.

Bill Petit lost his family and his home in one foul swoop in mid-2007. Despite his profound loss, Bill was present every day in court, determined to see for himself that justice was served for his beloved wife and daughters. As one of the most highly publicised murder trials in American history, the Cheshire murder trials were followed closely, and while it is the popular opinion that Komisarjevsky and his partner in the crime, Steven Hayes, should have been given the death sentences that they were initially handed down, Bill Petit can sleep at knowing that his beloved family was served justice, that the life he has rebuilt for himself cannot be jeopardised by the two criminals, and that another family will never have to go through what he and his family did, at the hands of the two men that took everything from him and tore his life apart.

 

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