Cheshire case a clue for Clark

Jennifer Hawke-Petit, her husband, William Petit, and their two teenage daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were sleeping in their Cheshire, Conn., home early in the morning of July 23, 2007, when two men crept into the house. Within two hours, Hawke-Petit and Hayley were raped and the home was set on fire.

By the time the alleged perpetrators were caught, Hawke-Petit had been strangled to death and the two daughters had died from smoke inhalation. Fifty-year-old Petit, though beaten with a baseball bat, managed to escape.

Almost three years later, the two men charged in the notorious triple homicide, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, have yet to be tried. And Monday in New Haven Superior Court, Judge Jon Blue delayed jury selection for Hayes’s trial for at least another week. (Komisarjevsky will be tried after Hayes’ trial has concluded .)

Exactly two weeks after Raymond Clark III, the man charged in the slaying of Yale graduate student Annie Le GRD ’13, pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and felony murder, the Hayes trial suggests a lengthy judicial process lies ahead for Clark as well.

NOTORIETY

National news organizations have extensively covered both cases, making the selection of impartial jurors a challenge, three legal experts said. One of the public defenders representing Clark, Beth Merkin, said “it’s common sense that in a high profile case, you want to minimize any impact of media exposure on the jury pool.”

In cases as well-known as these, lawyers hope to fill juries with people who at least demonstrate an ability to be impartial despite prior exposure, said New Haven-based criminal defense attorney Paul Carty. Jurors need to be able to “empty the cup of all that they’ve read or heard and let it be filled with information from the trial,” he said.

Given widespread publicity about these cases, it will be a challenge to find jurors who will not feel pressured by how their friends, family or colleagues might react to a surprising verdict, said former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Meyer ’85 LAW ’89, now a law professor at Quinnipiac University.

The state prosecutor handling the case, Michael Dearington, and Hayes’ public defender, Thomas Ullmann, both declined to comment because the judge has ordered them not to discuss the case with the media. The order is intended to limit pre-trial publicity to ensure an unbiased jury, they said.

Meyer said high-profile cases draw attention to the jury selection strategies of the defense and prosecution. The prosecution in Hayes’s case wants jurors who believe in an “eye for an eye,” whereas the defense, he said, is looking for jurors who are open-minded and have a diversity of experience.

As in the Hayes case, the judge in the Clark case, Roland Fasano, has needed to strike a balance between releasing information to the public and not biasing the jury pool, Merkin said.

“But I can’t predict whether it’s even going to go to trial,” she added, because the police investigation is ongoing.

Steven Duke LAW ’61, an expert on criminal law and professor at Yale Law School, said he would not be surprised if the Clark case takes a year to come to trial.

But notoriety aside, Meyer said the most troubling parallel between the two cases is the lack of an established motive.

“Neither case involved infidelity or refusal to hand over money or any other typical motive,” Meyer said. “There are real question marks.”

The state prosecutor for the Clark case, John Waddock, declined to comment Monday.

LONG ROAD AHEAD

Jury selection for Hayes’ trial was halted last week after Hayes, of Winsted, Conn., was found unconscious in his cell at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, the maximum security facility where Clark is also being held. Hayes had overdosed on medication he had been pretending to take for several days. While his condition has since stabilized, Judge Blue postponed jury selection until at least Feb. 16.

Since jury selection began on Jan. 19, four jurors have been selected for the panel, which will include 12 regular jurors and up to eight alternates. The trial is scheduled to begin in September.

But selecting the rest of the jurors to try Hayes may take several more months, Meyer said.

Jury selection in Connecticut’s capital cases can proceed exceedingly slowly, he added, because state law allows lawyers to question each prospective juror one-on-one.

“We need to ask at what point justice delayed becomes justice denied,” he said.

Duke said individual questioning of jurors is an uncommon, but not unheard of practice outside Connecticut. Though jurors are usually questioned in groups to save time, jury selection for murder trials can take weeks or even months, he said.

Though progress on the case has been made, the long road to trial has taken a toll on those involved.

Petit, once a prominent endocrinologist, gave up his medical career after the attack to advocate for tougher sentencing laws for repeat violent offenders. Both Hayes and Komisarjevsky were on parole when they allegedly committed the crimes. At an October 2008 gathering in Woodbury, Conn., Petit said he felt abused by years of waiting for the trial to begin, the Hartford Courant reported.

“Somebody murders your family in 2007, and they tell you they’re going to go to trial in 2010 — what a great system we have,” he said.

Both Hayes and Komisarjevsky, whose trial will take place after Hayes’, could face the death penalty if convicted.

Danny Serna and Esther Zuckerman contributed reporting.

Comments

  • Stephen

    Why does this state have to be so nice to these 3 killers?
    Kill them now and let the families sue the state! See if anybody cares about these killers. Change the laws!

  • kipitwic

    This only goes to show that there is NO justice in the legal system for the victims. The law set up in such a way that it is beneficial only to the lawyers to see that their clients get as lenient a sentence as possible. Only the accused have rights, and then they go to jail and get all the amenities of health care we as taxpayer don’t have. Yes…it is truly a sad state of affairs.

  • kinct

    Actually, one of the charges was the rape of the 11-year-old girl, almost certainly within hearing of her mother and older sister.

    Have a good day, you liberals.
    Me. I won’t enjoy supporting these scum for the foreseeable future.

  • no justice

    Nobody is afraid of the legal system anymore. Why do you think there is so much crime? The way the bad guys see it, even if they get caught, they are guaranteed 3 meals a day, a place to sleep and an outdoor gym. They make jail seem so horrible don’t they?

    I really don’t know what to say anymore on this case. All I can say is they made an arrest and found enough evidence on the guy in 2 weeks time to convict him a thousand times. But we all know how it goes, right? They gotta give every cold blooded killer their moment in court to give a sob story and how they “didn’t mean to do it.”

    sigh…

    I am so sorry for the loved ones of the victims in these cases. I am so sorry you have to go through lengthy trials to get justice. I hope and pray that all of you find peace. God’s justice will prevail.

  • thinker

    The state of CT is responsible for this circus. Hayes and Komisarjevsky offered guilty pleas in exchange for life sentences without parole, MORE THAT A YEAR AGO. The state rejected that because they WANTED this death penalty trial to drag on instead. This isnt justice, it’s vengeance.

  • @#4

    Spend just a week in jail and then tell me it’s not a horrible place to be. You have no idea what the hell happens in there.

    Yes I feel bad for the families but remember it’s innocent till proven guilty… wouldn’t you want that as well should you end up in jail?

  • Observer

    I don’t get the connection. Two completely different scenarios, yet they are comparing this case with Raymond Clark’s? Not even close. Clark was not a criminal out on parole, and he didn’t go after some random stranger’s family in the middle of the night. In fact, we don’t know if he even was in the same room as Annie Le when she died. Someone really needs to get out there and show people how the evidence in the warrants can be countered, because they can. Clark’s guilt is not a sure thing.