Jury Finds Steven Hayes Guilty, Now Must Decide If He Lives Or Dies
NEW HAVEN — It's a word Dr. William Petit Jr. has waited to hear since his family was killed in a brutal home invasion in Cheshire more than three years ago.

On Tuesday, Petit heard "guilty" uttered 16 times inside a hushed and crowded courtroom. Each time he said it, the middle-aged jury foreman nodded confidently while looking at Steven Hayes, the man in the courtroom responsible for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley and Michaela.

Petit, who was badly beaten but survived the July 23, 2007, break-in, attack and arson at his Cheshire home, sat in the gallery with his head down, fighting back tears. An emotionless Hayes, once a burly man in his police mug shot but now thin and scraggly at 47, never looked at the jury. He stared straight ahead toward the judge's bench as the counts were read.

The foreman's colleagues — seven women and four men — were just as resolute. When polled as a group, their affirmations of "yes" to each guilty verdict were clear and bold.

Hayes was found guilty on 16 of 17 counts, including three counts of murder, six counts of capital felony, the sexual assault of Hawke-Petit, four counts of first-degree kidnapping, third-degree burglary and the baseball-bat assault on Petit. The jury acquitted him on one count: first-degree arson.

Conviction on the capital felony charges means Hayes automatically faces a death penalty hearing in which jurors will decide whether Hayes lives or dies. That penalty phase of the trial will begin Oct. 18.

Shortly after the verdict was read, Petit, with his father, William Petit Sr., gripping his arm for support, spoke to reporters in the rain on the courthouse steps. Johanna Petit Chapman, his sister, rested her head on her brother's arm before he spoke.

Keeping his composure as he patiently answered questions, Petit said he believed Hawke-Petit and the girls were praying for him and his family so they would have the strength to endure.

"We did our best to keep our faith in God that justice would be served," Petit said. "There is some relief, but my family is still gone. It doesn't bring them back. It doesn't bring back the home that we had, but certainly a guilty verdict is a much better sense of relief than a verdict of not guilty."

He thanked well-wishers from Connecticut and across the country for all of the e-mails, letters and donations to the Petit Family Foundation. He also thanked the jury.

"We really thank the jury for their due diligence and careful consideration of the charges and reaching what we feel is an appropriate verdict. And we hope they will continue to use the same diligence and clarity of thought as they consider arguments in the penalty phase of the trial," he said.

Asked how he has the strength to keep going, to attend the penalty phase of the trial, Petit looked out at the media and bystanders forming a semicircle around him, filling Church Street in front of the courthouse, and said: "Most of you out here are good human beings. You'd probably do the same thing for your family if your family was destroyed by evil."

He admitted it will be tough.

"So, do I really want to do it? Do I look forward to the ride every day? No. You know, I have a little nausea every time I get off the exit ramp, a little nausea every time I get out of the car and walk across the street. But I think I do it for my family. … All of you, I think, would do the same thing for your families," he said.

Under 5 Hours To Decide

Hayes was convicted of breaking into the Petit home with another man, Joshua Komisarjevsky, in the middle of the night, beating Petit and tying up the family as they ransacked the home for cash and valuables. Testimony showed that at one point, Hayes forced Hawke-Petit to go to the bank to withdraw money. During that time, according to testimony, Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted 11-year-old Michaela.

When Hawke-Petit and Hayes returned from the bank, Hayes raped and strangled Hawke-Petit, 48, and the house was doused with gasoline and set on fire as the intruders fled, testimony showed. Hayley, 17, and her younger sister died from smoke inhalation.

After more than two dozen witnesses, nearly 200 exhibits and eight days of grueling testimony that moved some jurors to tears, the jury spent less than a full day — about 4 1/2 hours — deliberating Hayes' fate.

Judge Jon C. Blue told jurors to knock on the jury deliberation room door when they reached a verdict. That knock came about 12:30 p.m., sending journalists sitting on one side of the courtroom gallery scrambling for their notebooks, pens, laptops and cellphones.