Steven Hayes: A Life In And Out Of Prison

Steven Hayes is seen in 1989 in Winsted jail, in 2002, and in 2010.

Throughout his many trips into and out of the state's prison system, Steven Hayes could always count on his mother.

Each time Hayes left prison, Diana Hayes took him into her tiny Winsted home. She wrote letters to wardens, parole officers and prison officials supporting her son and insisting that his latest prison stint had effected his behavior.

• Monday: Penalty Phase Begins For Steven Hayes

"I have seen a change in my son. He has taken his role in life more seriously and has matured in many ways,'' Diana Hayes wrote in 1981 to the warden at the Cheshire Correctional Center. "I feel if given a chance, he can be an asset to our society."

But when Diana Hayes died last year, the family did not include her by-then infamous son in her obituary.

Now, as the jury weighs whether Hayes should be put to death for the brutal slayings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley and Michaela, the 47-year-old sits alone in the New Haven courtroom, awaiting a fate that many have considered a foregone conclusion since the horrific details emerged about what happened inside 300 Sorghum Mill Road on July 23, 2007.

No Hayes family members have attended the trial and none are expected for the death penalty phase. No one wants to talk about Hayes or, for the most part, even acknowledge that they knew him. Even former employees who once wrote glowing recommendations for Hayes in the 1980s don't want to talk about him now.

Danny DiLeo, the owner of the former J&D's Restaurant in Torrington, wrote a letter to Hayes in the 1980s saying he was "anxiously waiting" for Hayes to get out on parole so he could return to working at the restaurant.

"You were always an excellent worker, and a quick learner. I feel certain that you would be an asset to my business,'' DiLeo wrote in a letter included in Hayes' voluminous parole file.

But when he was contacted recently for comment, he declined. "I don't think it's a good idea to be talking about that guy,'' DiLeo said, and he hung up.

Over the years, Hayes worked as a cook in restaurants around central and western Connecticut, from high-end places like Apricots in Farmington and the White Hart Inn in Salisbury to slinging hamburgers and cooking French fries in the VIP tent at the Dodge Music Center (now the Comcast Theatre) in Hartford. The music center was one of the jobs he held at the time of the Cheshire home invasion murders.

James Salerno worked with Hayes at the Dodge and lived at the Silliman halfway house in Hartford when Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky were roommates there. He remembers that Hayes was always telling stories, including one in which he said he was asked to join singer Sheryl Crow's staff as a cook.

"He bragged about that, but I'm not sure it's true,'' Salerno said in a recent interview.

At the time of the murders, Hayes was dating a girl named Maria, whom he met at an AA meeting and whom he helped get a job at the music center. Salerno said she disappeared after the murders and he hasn't heard from her since.

Besides cooking at restaurants, Hayes also worked over the years at an auto mechanic shop, a homeless shelter in Danielson, a Salvation Army store in Torrington and for Phil Theebe, a builder in Torrington. He borrowed Theebe's truck to drive to Cheshire to meet Komisarjevsky the night of the murders.

Police found several items from the Petit home in the truck the morning after the murders, including Hayley Petit's backpack, filled with nickels and dimes he had taken from her room.

Stealing change from a child's piggy bank fits Hayes' criminal history, up until the Cheshire home invasion.

Since he was 16 years old, Hayes has been in and out of prison, serving 26 different stints in Connecticut jails on charges ranging from writing bad checks to petty larceny, records show. A former Winsted police officer who arrested a teenaged Hayes called him a "human vacuum cleaner" who would steal anything he could.

His most recent arrest before the Cheshire murders involved stealing a woman's purse from her locked minivan at the Nepaug Reservoir. He was arrested by Metropolitan District Commission police officers who were staking out the parking lot after a rash of car break-ins. The police report from the May 4, 2004, sting describes Hayes driving into the lot in his mother's Ford Escort, popping the hood as if he were going to check the engine and then watching as people left their cars.