Suspects in Conn. homicides lacked violent pasts, state says

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CHESHIRE, Conn. (AP) – State officials are re-examining their policies after learning two convicted burglars out on parole are accused of killing three family members during a home invasion and arson and town leaders want to provide grief counselors for the still shaken community.

“The only thing we’re trying to do is get the neighborhood back to some degree of normalcy,” Cheshire Town Manager Michael Milone said Wednesday. “I don’t know the response, you’re not trained for something like this.”

Milone said he’s hoping to bring in counselors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Two days after the deaths of the wife and daughters of prominent endocrinologist Dr. William Petit Jr., friends and strangers continued placing flowers bouquets near the boarded-up home, damaged by the fire the suspects allegedly set to cover their tracks.

Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, was strangled and 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela died of smoke inhalation, according to the state medical examiner. All three deaths were ruled homicides. Dr. Petit, 50, who was beaten and bound in the basement, managed to escape. He remained hospitalized Wednesday in serious but stable condition.

The suspects, Joshua Komisarjevsky, 26, of Cheshire, and Steven Hayes, 44, of Winsted, were charged with assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, arson, larceny and risk of injury to children. Bond was set at $15 million each.

Robert Farr, chairman of the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Parole, said neither suspect had a history of violent crimes when they were granted supervised parole this past spring.

“That’s why this is sort of shocking – because it doesn’t fit a normal mode,” Farr said.

But Farr acknowledged that board didn’t have as much information as it should have had about the men’s records, such as the transcript from a 2002 sentencing where a Bristol Superior Court judge called Komisarjevsky “a cold, calculating predator.”

Komisarjevsky was sentenced to nine years in prison with six years of special parole for a string of burglaries where he wore military night vision goggles, broke into homes and stole electronic items while victims slept, police said.

Komisarjevsky comes from a prominent Connecticut family. His grandfather was Theodore Komisarjevsky, a renowned Russian theater director and designer and his grandmother was dancer Ernestine Stodelle.

New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington, whose office is handling the case, said Wednesday that he needs more time to review evidence before deciding whether to pursue charges that could bring the death penalty for the two suspects.

“I know the public consensus is they should be fried tomorrow,” he said.

Murder committed in the course of committing first-degree sexual assault, murder of a kidnapped person, murder of two or more people at the same time, and murder of someone under age 16 each carry the death penalty in Connecticut.

The family of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, who was from Pennsylvania, flew to Connecticut on Tuesday and began sifting through the charred house Wednesday.

“We tried to gather up some things that may be of some value to us … but most of it’s pretty well destroyed,” Richard Hawke, the father and grandfather of the victims, told WTNH-TV.

Hawke, a Methodist minister, wondered how such a “tragic, evil thing” could be done.

“I think God is crying with us today,” he said.

Hayes is being held at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers while Komisarjevsky is at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield. Both are separated from the general prison population, said Department of Correction spokesman Brian Garnett.

While both men have long criminal records, Farr said there was nothing to show that they were capable of such violent crimes. They committed property crimes, Garnett said.

“They were obviously individuals that had long and extensive records, but they weren’t violent records,” Farr said.

Prosecutors said Komisarjevsky started robbing homes, his first in Cheshire, when he was 14. He pleaded guilty at the time and said in court that he was truly sorry.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes were both released from prison last year. While they didn’t serve time in the same facility, they were roommates at a drug treatment center and later a halfway house in Hartford, said Robert Pidgeon, chief executive officer of Community Solutions Inc., which runs both facilities.

Pidgeon said they were roommates for probably a week in June of 2006 at the Berman Treatment Center. They later roomed together for as much as four months at Silliman House. Pidgeon said the Department of Correction thoroughly screens men before sending them to the facility, which typically handles nonviolent offenders.

“There’s nobody that would have predicted this,” Pidgeon said.

State police said the men entered the Petit home at about 3 a.m. Monday, planning to burglarize it. When they found the family home, they beat Dr. Petit, then tied up his wife and daughters.

Authorities were tipped off that the family was in danger by employees at a local bank when one of the suspects forced Hawke-Petit to make a large withdrawal around 9:30 a.m. Bank employees became suspicious and called police, who drove to the Petit home.

The suspects were caught in the family’s car after ramming several cruisers as they fled the burning home, which they apparently had torched to cover their tracks, authorities said.

Hawke-Petit and her daughters were found dead inside. Dr. Petit escaped the blaze.

Cheshire Police Lt. Jay Markella said police late Tuesday turned the house over to the family’s insurance company. A lone officer guarded the property as visitors left flowers Wednesday.

“It hits the heart,” said Joan Morin, a patient of Dr. Petit, who added her bouquet to the growing memorial. “The family was just trying to live their life.”

AP-ES-07-25-07 1958EDT

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