NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Connecticut man expressed regret but steadfastly blamed his accomplice as he was sentenced to die Friday for a deadly home invasion that unsettled suburbia and halted momentum to abolish the state’s death penalty. The sole survivor of the attack called the loss of his wife and two daughters a “personal holocaust” as the final chapter closed on the case.
Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, described his regrets and the devastating consequences of his decisions as he spoke in court, but also denied having any part in the killings. He said he has family and supporters who don’t want him to die. He also said being sentenced to death was a “surreal experience.”
“I know my responsibilities, but what I cannot do is carry the responsibilities of the actions of another,” Komisarjevsky said. “I did not want those innocent women to die.”
Komisarjevsky joins the accomplice, Steven Hayes, and nine other men on Connecticut’s death row. The state’s last execution in 2005 was the first since 1960, and Komisarjevsky will likely spend years, if not decades, in prison.
The two paroled burglars tormented a family of four in the affluent New Haven suburb of Cheshire before killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and leaving her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, to die in a fire.
The only survivor, Dr. William Petit, was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up but escaped.
Hayes was convicted in 2010 of raping and strangling Hawke-Petit and killing the girls. The girls were tied to their beds and doused in gasoline before the house was set ablaze; they died of smoke inhalation. Komisarjevsky was convicted of the killings and of sexually assaulting Michaela.
Komisarjevsky insisted on Friday that he didn’t kill anyone, that he didn’t rape Michaela and that he didn’t start the fire. Talking about his death sentence he said, “I wonder when the killing will end.”
William Petit and his relatives left the courtroom before Komisarjevsky spoke.
Petit called the crime a “personal holocaust” as he testified earlier during the sentencing hearing. He said his wife was his friend and confidant, and a wonderful mother. He also noted that Hayley would be in medical school by now and that Michaela loved to cook and sing.
“I lost my family and my home,” he said. “They were three special people. Your children are your jewels.”
Earlier, Jennifer’s sister, Cynthia Hawke-Renn, said via video played in court that everyday items like gas, rope, bed posts and gas conjure horrific memories.
“There is no escaping the horrors of that night,” she said.
The sentencing, which was earlier recommended by a jury, concluded two long trials that subjected jurors to grim evidence including charred beds, rope used to tie up the family and autopsy photos. The 2007 attack led to the defeat of a bill to outlaw the death penalty in Connecticut and sparked tougher state laws for repeat offenders and home invasions.
In arguing for a life sentence, his lawyers said he was repeatedly sexually abused as a child by his foster brother and he never got proper psychological help as his problems worsened. He suffered from a mood disorder since he was about 9 that included bouts of profound depression, according to a defense psychiatrist.
Prosecutors said the rape claims emerged years later when Komisarjevsky faced prison time for 19 nighttime residential burglaries committed a decade ago.
In closing arguments, a prosecutor said the two men created “the ultimate house of horrors” by inflicting extreme psychological and physical pain on the victims that amounted to torture.
Komisarjevsky admitted in an audiotaped confession played for the jury that he spotted Hawke-Petit and Michaela at a supermarket and followed them to their house. After going home and putting his own daughter to bed, he and Hayes returned to the Petit house in the middle of the night to rob it.
In the morning, Hayes took Hawke-Petit to a bank to withdraw money, promising her no one would be hurt if she complied. Komisarjevsky took cellphone pictures of Michaela while her mother and Hayes were out.
The men, who blamed each other for escalating the crime, were caught fleeing in the family’s car.
Komisarjevsky did not testify during his trial but objected unsuccessfully to an effort by his attorneys to play a videotaped interview of his 9-year-old daughter. Speaking outside the presence of the jury, he said he didn’t want his daughter to feel compelled to help “one of the most hated people in America.”
His family and other witnesses described him as remorseful and in shock over his role in the crime. Prosecutors tried to raise doubts about his remorse, noting he blamed Petit for not doing more to help his family even though Komisarjevsky had beaten him with a bat and tied him up.