NEW HAVEN ——A Superior Court judge is expected to rule today on a request by attorneys for Cheshire home-invasion suspect Steven Hayes to bar the public from pre-trial testimony and arguments about statements and admissions Hayes allegedly made to police after his arrest.
Hayes' lawyers say exposing jurors to media reports of the pretrial arguments could be prejudicial to Hayes and violate his constitutional right to a fair trial. The lawyers say the "inculpatory and highly inflammatory" statements acknowledge Hayes' "criminal liability for some of the criminal acts for which he is charged."
Joshua Komisarjevsky, 29, of Cheshire, face the death penalty if convicted of the killings.
"I have no doubt that jurors will follow the court's orders instructing them not to seek out publicity in this case," Public Defender Thomas J. Ullmann said Tuesday during a hearing in Superior Court, referring to the 12 regular jurors, six alternates and two backup alternates selected for Hayes' Sept. 13 trial.
But coverage of the July 2007 slayings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters has been "in your face" and unavoidable. "Just walking down the street you see it," Ullmann said, referring to the headlines displayed from sidewalk newspaper boxes.
Ullmann said such "unavoidable" coverage risks the impartiality of those jurors who have been selected.
"[Hayes'] right to a fair trial by an impartial jury is of paramount importance and therefore overrides the public's interest in allowing his motions to be available to the public," Hayes' lawyers said.
But William S. Fish Jr., a lawyer for The Courant, said that barring the public from the courtroom is "risking the First Amendment" and that the defense offered no evidence — "just speculation" — proving jurors would not comply with the court's order to avoid pre-trial publicity.
Fish argued that the public "has a real and legitimate interest in the workings of our courts" and requiring the courts to stay open to the public.
He said a newspaper's job is "to write about and publish news of interest to the public," a function that "lies at the heart of the First Amendment's prescribed role for the press as the surrogate of the public, its eyes and ears," helping the public make "informed judgments about the quality of society, government, law enforcement, and the judicial system to make their decisions as citizens accordingly."
Blue told both sides he planned to issue a written ruling sometime today.
Hayes' lawyers also had wanted the courtroom closed during arguments over whether books Hayes borrowed from prison libraries could be used as evidence against him in trial. On Tuesday, however, Ullmann said he would withdraw the request to close the courtroom in that instance because prosecutors told him the state would not offer the books as evidence in the trial.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky are accused of killing Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, during a break-in, attack and arson inside their Cheshire home on July 23, 2007. Hawke-Petit's husband and the girls' father, Dr. William Petit Jr., was beaten but survived.
Komisarjevsky will face trial next year.