Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky

Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky

Hayes raped and strangled Jennifer Hawke-Petit. Her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, died of smoke inhalation after they were doused with gasoline and the house was set ablaze. Komisarjevsky admitted that he sexually assaulted Michaela. Only Dr. William A. Petit Jr., Hawke-Petit's husband and the girls' father — whom Komisarjevsky viciously beat in the head with a baseball bat — survived.

Hayes said he expected to die as he and Komisarjevsky fled the burning Petit home. He expected Cheshire police officers to shoot him when they saw the fake but authentic-looking gun he was carrying or when Komisarjevsky rammed their getaway vehicle into a police cruiser.

Instead, he and Komisarjevsky were immediately arrested and forever linked to one of the most horrendous crimes in Connecticut history.

As his trial was getting underway, Hayes was found unconscious in his prison cell after overdosing on prescription medication. Testimony at his trial showed that the attempt was another on a list of suicide attempts he made before and after the Cheshire killings.

To end his life, Hayes said, he slashed his wrists, slammed his mother's car into a rock and tied a sock around his neck, according to trial testimony. He even fantasized about putting his head in a prison cell toilet and doing a back flip, but didn't for fear he would survive but be paralyzed.

At Northern, he said, he still thinks of ways to die. Every day, Hayes said, he paces for hours in his cell, trying to relieve his anxiety. It doesn't work. Thoughts of the killings — and a host of other crimes that have sent him shuffling back and forth to prison since 1993 — return to him in nightmares, he said.

Hayes used to read crime novels in prison, but since being on death row, he said, he no longer reads. "I just can't concentrate anymore," Hayes said.

The frustration of being in a place where he no longer can "make it right" gives him constant anxiety attacks. In one recent episode, he ended up slamming his head against the metal ladder to the bunk bed in his cell.

Other potential distractions — like the sitcoms and dramas he watches on the television in his cell — also make him think about his past. A show he recently watched that included a character having a baby only reminded him that he'd been in prison when one of his two children was born. And, he said, watching news reports about crimes brings back the Cheshire killings.

But was Hayes lying then — and now? Was his death wish real or a ploy for sympathy?

Prosecutors at his trial fought against the defense's portrayal of Hayes as a depressed, guilt-ridden and suicidal drug addict so hellbent on being executed that he planned to show no remorse at his trial in front of the jury.

They painted a much different portrait: that of a manipulative inmate shrewdly aware how his self-professed suicide attempts — and the prison system's reporting of them — could affect whether he would be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of release.

So, who was right — the defense or the prosecution?

If Hayes is so eager to die, why not just do what serial killer Michael Ross did: give up his appeals and let the state put a needle in his arm? Ross was put to death in May 2005, the first person executed in Connecticut since 1960. There would be no shortage of people who would be pleased if Hayes became the next.

Hayes shook his head.

"I promised Tom I wouldn't do that," he said, referring to his defense lawyer, New Haven Public Defender Thomas J. Ullmann.

Ullmann, with permission from Hayes to talk to The Courant about his case, confirmed his pact with Hayes.

"He's made that promise to me," Ullmann said. "There are some people out there who think that because of Steven Hayes' suicidal ideation, he will waive all of his appeals" outside of a mandated automatic appeal.

"He has made a commitment to me that he will not pull a Michael Ross."

The promise was, in a sense, a payback for Hayes' determination to keep Ullmann and Patrick Culligan of the state's Public Defender's Office capital defense unit from bringing Hayes' family members to the witness stand.