NEW HAVEN—As the flames and heat subsided, emergency officials began learning just how horrific the crime scene was at 300 Sorghum Mill Drive in Cheshire on July 23, 2007.
On the second floor, at the top of the stairs, was a body.
" Hayley Petit," Cheshire volunteer firefighter Rick Trocci said softly during testimony Wednesday in Superior Court.
In the family room, Meriden firefighter Tim Wysoczanski found another body, this one burned beyond recognition in the fire set by two intruders.
"Did you subsequently find out it was Mrs. Jennifer Hawke-Petit?" Prosecutor Gary Nicholson asked.
"Yes sir," Wysoczanski replied.
In an upstairs bedroom was another body: a blonde-haired girl in pink shorts lying face down, her wrists bound and tied to the bed.
"That's where I found Michaela Petit," Cheshire police Lt. Jay Markella said somberly.
After morning testimony in the trial of Steven Hayes called into question — for the first time publicly — the police response to the deadly home invasion at the Petit home, by afternoon the focus was back on the victims and the grim search for them inside their fire-ravaged home.
Jurors seemed to anticipate the inevitable. They had been told by both the judge and lawyers that gruesome, heart-breaking photos were part of the testimony they needed to see in order to decide the fate of Hayes, 47, of Winsted, who faces the death penalty if convicted of the killings.
Jurors sent a note Wednesday asking Judge Jon C. Blue if they could be warned when the graphic photos would be displayed on a large movie screen in the courtroom. He said the photos, instead, would be done old-school, tucked in a folder and distributed among them in the jury box.
"Just prepare yourself as best you can," Blue said.
One by one, the half-dozen photos circulated among the 12 jurors and three alternates. Some jurors remained stoic as they glanced quickly at the photos, closing the folders almost as soon as they opened them.
But others were not so unflappable. One woman braced her body and sighed. Another put her hand to her head and cried. A man also cried. One woman fixed an angry stare on Hayes, who sat at the defense table, emotionless.
One female juror looked at the photos and then at Dr. William Petit Jr. seated in the front row. By the end of the showing, Petit was in tears. His father, William Petit Sr., sobbing himself, clung to his son, his arm wrapped around his back.
Markella's testimony was especially moving. The bedroom, at the end of the home, and farther away from the origin of the fire, was not as damaged as other parts of the house. So Markella had some hope for the girl he saw hanging partly off the bed, her arms over her head. But once he was close, that hope was lost.
"I could tell she wasn't alive," he said. Both Petit daughters died of smoke inhalation. Hawke-Petit was strangled.
Blue then excused the jury for the day.
"They've been through quite a bit," he told the attorneys.