Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky

Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky

HARTFORD, CT -- While Steven Hayes sat on Connecticut's death row late in 2011, the trial of his accomplice in the Cheshire home invasion killings was underway in a New Haven courtroom.

Joshua Komisarjevsky's lawyers were rolling out a no-holds-barred, detailed defense, revealing every nuance of the young man's life to try and save him from the death penalty.

And Hayes' name kept coming up.

Was there any point in listening to a career criminal, a man Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue labeled as "universally despised, with good reason" ?

Was there anything a man who had brutally murdered a mother and her two daughters had to say?

State Sen. Edith Prague, a key player in the state's death penalty debate, didn't seem to think so. She said she didn't even bother reading a letter Hayes sent to her earlier this year.

"I was so pissed that he would have the nerve to write me," Prague said.

Yet Hayes' trial, which concluded a year earlier, ended with some questions that had yet to be answered.

Were his suicide attempts, including one that halted jury selection in his case for six weeks, genuine, or just the manipulations of a killer desperate for a shred of sympathy?

What was behind Hayes' bombshell decision to change his plea to guilty only to reverse it again?

Why did the penalty phase of his trial — the time when attorneys would typically fight for his life — lack testimony from Hayes' family members, mitigation evidence his veteran defense lawyers were known to present in past cases?

And — did he really kill 17 other women?

Hayes had made that chilling claim in letters, including one sent to The Courant, that defense attorneys pushed to have included as evidence in Komisarjevsky's trial.

Hayes' offer to talk, while troubling, appeared to have a purpose.

"I need to clear my conscience," Hayes wrote.

The quiet road leading to Northern Correctional Institution, which houses Connecticut's death row, cuts through scenic open fields in Somers where passing cars send flocks of birds rushing up into the sky. Northern, a concrete fortress surrounded by layers of silver barbed wire, is a blemish on the picturesque landscape.

To get to death row, visitors must sign in and clear a security checkpoint. A correction officer leads visitors to a slow-running elevator that opens into a long, dimly lit corridor. The walk to the end of the hallway is more than 200 paces.

The visiting area sits beyond a locked metal door that slides open slowly. Visitors sit on gray, cylinder-shaped concrete seats built into the floor, and use a telephone to talk to the inmate on the other side of a glass partition.

Before Hayes sat down one recent afternoon, correction officers removed his handcuffs. The loud clanking of opening and closing jail cell doors was constant, but it was the sound of an inmate, screaming and groaning in the background, that was hard to ignore.