Steven Hayes: A Life In And Out Of Prison

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.

The report says that Hayes left the area, but returned a half hour later and walked around peering into people's cars — all while officers watched from woods less than 25 yards away. Officers watched Hayes look into the minivan, walk quickly back to his car and grab "something that turned out to be a rock." He smashed the van's passenger side window and took a purse from the front seat, according to the MDC police report.

When an officer came out of the woods with his gun drawn and ordered Hayes to stop, he ran down the service road carrying the purse in his hand with an officer in pursuit until he ran out of breath and stopped, according to MDC Officer E.M. Danville's report.

Danville wrote that Hayes turned and said he "wasn't going anywhere because he was tired and about to shit his pants.'' Hayes eventually was taken to Sharon Hospital for stomach tests that day but nothing was found to be wrong with him, the report said. He was held on a $10,000 bond and went back to prison.

Hayes has a history of disciplinary issues in prison, getting 23 "tickets," or disciplinary citations. Most involved minor scuffles with other inmates or illegal items, the strangest being a June 1992 report of a homemade blowgun and dart found in his cell.

Hayes learned young what he needed to say and do to get by in the correctional system, starting with his first prison term in Cheshire Correctional Institute when he was 17. He'd been there three months when he wrote a letter to prison officials seeking to have his sentence modified or reduced.

"I feel that in the three months I have been here at Cheshire I have learned that I cannot go around breaking the law and expect to get away with it. I know what I did was inexcusable, but I will promise anything that it will never happen again,'' Hayes wrote. "You have probably heard promises before, so all I can ask is that you accept my promise as the truth."

Four years later, and serving time in a different prison, Hayes wrote a letter to the warden seeking an "emergency transfer" from Somers to a jail in Litchfield so he could be closer to his wife.

"She is on the verge of a nervous breakdown brought on not just because of my incarceration but because I am here at Somers,'' Hayes wrote. "Please sir, my wife is all I have in this world and I don't know what I would do if I lost her.''

Hayes' plea worked that time. He was transferred to Litchfield within two months of the letter, corrections' records show, although he was not, and has never been, married.

In some records his then-girlfriend Rosalie Olivieri is referred to as his common-law wife — a status not recognized in Connecticut. The couple lived together in Torrington for at least six years, and they had two children together, both now in their teens and living with their mother.

Sources said Hayes teenage daughter has visited him in prison in the past few years, one of his only visitors other than attorneys.

Little is known about Hayes' own childhood. He was born in Homestead, Fla., where his father, James, was stationed in the Air Force. The family moved to Connecticut shortly after he was born in 1963. His parents divorced in 1978 when he was 14 and his mother, Diana, raised Hayes and his two brothers while working as a home-care companion.

In a letter his mother wrote on Hayes' behalf in 1981 — trying to reduce his first prison sentence — she referred to financial hardships. "Steven has always had a good work record in the past: I am in need of financial support at this time,'' Diana Hayes wrote. "I am finding it difficult to support three children on my own. Steven could be an asset to this household."

The only mention of Hayes' father in the son's records says that he remarried and moved away. He lives in Maryland.

Hayes didn't finish high school, dropping out of Canton High at age 16, according to his parole file. He obtained his high school equivalency diploma in 1982 after passing the General Educational Development test while in the Cheshire Correctional Institution.

Hayes impressed Margaret Donovan, the teacher who helped him get his GED. She wrote an unsolicited letter on his behalf when he tried to get his sentence modified: "I have faith in Steven's self-rehabilitation. I believe that in returning him to society at an earlier date, you will be doing something that will prove beneficial to Steven, to society, and to his own family,'' wrote Donovan, who has since died.

Hayes sentence was not modified, but within months he was placed on supervised home release, records show. That pattern repeated itself over the years.

After so many arrests and so many opportunities to start again, even Hayes was astonished when he was sent to the Silliman House, a halfway house in Hartford, in 2006 to serve out the last of his sentence in connection with the MDC car break-in. One of his roommates, Mike, told The Courant in 2007, shortly after the murders, that Hayes said numerous times he "didn't know how the hell they let me out of jail.''

Hayes' other roommate was Komisarjevsky. The rail thin, often brooding Komisarjevsky, and Hayes, the older, stocky, career criminal, made an odd couple. They shared a love of tattoos. Hayes has an 8-inch inch dragon on his right forearm; Komisarjevsky has several tattoos.

Their relationship baffled the other convicts in the house.

"They were different people,'' Salerno said. "The other one [Komisarjevsky] was almost eerily quiet, while Hayes had more of a mouth to him. He loved to interact with everybody.''

Salerno said Diana Hayes would arrive almost every weekend to take her son home to Winsted for a weekend furlough. It was after one of those weekend visits that Hayes failed a drug test and was returned to prison instead of the halfway house. Hayes was released yet again less than six months later, and once again he moved back to Winsted with his mother.

Meanwhile, Komisarjevsky was released from the halfway house and moved back to Cheshire, although he had to wear electronic monitoring bracelets that were removed by authorized just a week before the Petit murders.

The two men teamed up to start their own carpentry business. The business didn't have a name, but the pair had managed to land a job building a deck and were pursuing other work.

Hayes was saving money from three jobs to buy himself a truck. When that money suddenly disappeared, his mother got suspicious that he was using drugs again.

Finally, after 24 years of providing her son with a home, no matter what he'd done, Diana Hayes had had enough. The mother who once promised to "never turn away from her son" told his parole officer that he'd have to leave her house on Tuesday, July 24.

On the morning before, when Hayes would have been packing his bags to leave his mother's home, he instead was fleeing the Petits' burning home with Komisarjevsky, leaving behind a horror many still cannot grasp.

When Hayes was arrested at gunpoint, the petty thief who stole "anything he could get his hands on" was wearing the last thing he'd stolen: Hayley Petit's green-and-white Miss Porter's School crew hat.

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