With evidence complete and closing arguments scheduled for Friday, defense attorneys for Joshua Komisarjevsky unsuccessfully argued Wednesday for a punishment of life in prison, saying prosecutors failed to prove the convicted triple murderer deserves to die.
Defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan said each of the statutory mitigating factors — that Komisarjevsky's mental capacity and ability to conform his conduct to the law was impaired and that his role in the killings was minor — "has been factually established."
A "reasonable jury," Donovan said, could find that it was Komisarjevsky's accomplice, Steven Hayes, not Komisarjevsky, who lit the match that touched off the fire that swept through the Petits' Cheshire home during the deadly July 23, 2007, home invasion.
Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue denied the motion. The jury will decide Komisarjevsky's punishment.
If closing arguments go as expected on Friday, jurors could begin deliberations Monday afternoon, weighing aggravating factors against mitigating factors to determine Komisarjevsky's fate.
Hayes is on death row after he was convicted last year of raping and strangling Jennifer Hawke-Petit and killing her daughters, Hayley and Michaela, who died of smoke inhalation. All three at one point had been tied to their beds. Hawke-Petit's husband and the girls' father, Dr. William Petit Jr., was beaten and bound but survived.
Donovan said the aggravating factors the state alleged — that Komisarjevsky committed the murders during the commission of or immediate flight from the commission of a felony, second-degree burglary, and that Komisarjevsky committed the murders in "an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner" and "knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person" — were not proven.
"The scale tips in favor of life," Donovan argued outside the presence of the jury.
Komisarjevsky, 31, was present for the hearing dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, not the suit and tie he has been wearing during the trial.
Donovan said the defense team also proved 42 non-statutory mitigating factors during 20 days of penalty phase evidence that depicted Komisarjevsky as a troubled man with a mood disorder that began in childhood. They say Komisarjevsky went to the home to steal but not to kill. It was Hayes, they claim, who escalated the break-in to murder.
Donovan asked the judge to impose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of death by lethal injection. Donovan said his defense team proved that certain aspects of Komisarjevsky's past and present life mitigate against the death penalty.
Those factors include that Komisarjevsky was raised in a conservative evangelical Christian community that reinforced negative beliefs of himself, that he was sexually abused by his foster brother while his parents failed to get him psychological help and medication, and that he suffered from a mood disorder and viewed personal losses as a punishment from God.
New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington opposed Donovan's request but did not offer argument.