Judge rejects defense motion in Petit hearing

by Eliza Relman | 11/28/10 11:00pm

Superior Court Judge Jon Blue on Friday denied a motion seeking a new trial for Steven Hayes, who was convicted last month of the murders of Hayley Petit, her mother and sister, according to the New Haven Register. In a 12-page decision, Blue rejected defense lawyers' argument that errors by the court warranted a re-trial, the Hartford Courant reported.

After deliberating for three days, the jury convicted Hayes on Oct. 5 of all six capital crimes and 10 of the 11 other crimes with which he was charged, The Dartmouth previously reported. A jury recommended on Nov. 8 that Hayes be sentenced to death.

Hayley Petit the daughter of William Petit, Jr. '78, who survived the attack would have matriculated with the Class of 2011.

The defense lawyers argued that Blue and the 12 jurors were unduly swayed by "emotion, passion and prejudice," the Register reported. They argued that particularly gruesome evidence and testimony presented to the jury during the two-month trial and penalty phase caused jurors to make decisions driven by unfair emotional reactions, according to the Republican American.

Defense lawyers cited jurors' comments to reporters, which they said demonstrated the jurors' unfair emotional concern. One juror was reported saying, "to look at those pictures of those young girls being burned alive how can you justify that?" according to the Register.

Blue countered this argument by writing in his decision that, "the jury gave every indication that it was an exceptionally sober group of citizens taking its awesome responsibility with the utmost seriousness," according to the Republican American. He added that the jury did not display "the behavior of a jury driven by passion and prejudice."

Defense lawyers further argued during a hearing on Nov. 24 that the media and victims' family were afforded "extraordinary" accommodations during the trial, according to the Register.

After the Nov. 8 decision, several jurors noted that the horrifying and abnormally gruesome nature of the trial's subject matter was emotionally and psychologically taxing, The Dartmouth previously reported. The jurors explained that the verdict was difficult to reach because some jurors were upset at the prospect of execution, but felt that if the death penalty were ever to be used, it would be most appropriate for Hayes's case.

In the state of Connecticut, only one person has been executed since 1960.

Blue will officially sentence Hayes on Dec. 2, The Dartmouth previously reported.

Immediately after the jurors proposed a death sentence earlier this month, Thomas Ullmann, one of Hayes's attorneys, requested that his client's official sentencing be delayed, The Dartmouth previously reported. Ullmann said the widespread media coverage of the trial affected the jury's decision.

In the request for a delay in sentencing, Hayes's defense team argued that the more than 145,000 "tweets" about the case posted on Twitter affected the jurors' opinions about Hayes, FOX News reported.

Hayes's lawyers also argued that this year's campaigns for state governor and U.S. senator in Connecticut affected the decision, as the legitimacy of the death penalty was a major campaign issue, the Associated Press reported.

State Attorney Michael Dearington called the defense's complaints a "wild goose chase," The Dartmouth previously reported. Blue's denial of the defense's request for a new trial echoes an earlier statement of the same disregard for the legitimacy of the defense's arguments.

Because he has the legal right to appeal the decision, Hayes may not be executed for many years, if at all, according to experts cited by The New York Times and previously reported in The Dartmouth.

Hayes's alleged accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky, has pled not guilty to the charges against him and is awaiting trial next year.

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