Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky

Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky

In April 2010, months before his trial began, Hayes dropped a bombshell on the proceedings. He blurted in court that he wanted to plead guilty to the Cheshire killings. Hayes made the offer without the benefit of a plea bargain, even though prosecutors never entertained any offers from the defense of a guilty plea in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table.

Hayes' decision to change his plea stunned the court and pitted him against his own attorneys, who vowed to fight his decision and try to keep him off death row.

At the time, Hayes said that he wanted to die and that he could not bear going to court each day for what essentially would be two trials: He fully expected to be convicted and then face the penalty phase of the trial. He said he feared what the notoriety of the case would do to his family, especially his adult son, Steven, and daughter, Alicia.

Hayes said his defense team had planned to present mitigation evidence from family members and bring some of them, including his willing daughter, who Hayes said is in the military, to the witness stand.

But Hayes said he didn't want anyone "making excuses" for what he did and television news cameras chasing his children and their mother down the street after court.

So he cut a deal. He said he agreed to change his plea back to not guilty if Ullmann and Culligan kept his family out of his trial.

"He was really insistent about that," Ullmann said.

He and Culligan complied because going against Hayes, Ullmann said, would have affected their relationship with Hayes and the team's ability to discuss its defense strategy.

"There are some lawyers who could say you could make that commitment but not honor it," Ullmann said. "That's the problem with defending a death penalty case. Sometimes you're forced to makes these bargains with the devil in order to manage the case properly."

Hayes said he knew his decision to keep his family out of the trial was difficult for Ullmann and Culligan.

If Hayes' daughter, Alicia, had taken the witness stand, Ullmann noted, she would have testified at about the same age as Hayley Petit was when she was killed.

At Komisarjevsky's trial, attorneys showed jurors a videotape of Komisarjevsky's 9-year-old daughter to bolster testimony from a child welfare expert who said Komisarjevsky's execution could be "very damaging" to the "bright, engaging and sparkly" girl.

In the end, though, jurors rejected weeks of defense evidence that portrayed Komisarjevsky as a man damaged by childhood sexual abuse, a strict religious upbringing and longtime mental health issues.

Not long after Komisarjevsky was sent to death row in the second Cheshire trial, the Connecticut legislature passed a historic measure to abolish the death penalty.

But lawmakers, with the horror of the Cheshire slayings still clearly on their minds, insisted that the measure be prospective, meaning those already on death row would remain there.

Although his case is on appeal and he is one of the 10 death row inmates in an upcoming habeas corpus trial claiming there is racial, ethnic and geographic disparity in the way the death penalty is administered in Connecticut, Hayes said he doesn't give much thought to the possibility of his death sentence being commuted, an issue that probably could be argued at the state's highest court.

Hayes said that he believes he deserves the death penalty and that he was disappointed by the legislature's vote to repeal capital punishment, calling it "unfortunate." He said he still views his death sentence as "a welcome relief," even though it could easily be 20 years or more before he is brought to Northern's execution chamber.

Life, he said, is now about thinking about his past, whether he wants to or not, realizing there was a reason he survived his past suicide attempts.

"I think I've survived because I am meant to live with the thoughts of what I did to that family."

Asked what he might say or write to Dr. Petit if given the chance, Hayes quickly wrote off the possibility.

"He doesn't want to hear from me," Hayes said.

And while those thoughts may infiltrate his mind, Hayes declined to discuss his specific role in the killings. He said he doesn't talk to Komisarjevsky and sees him occasionally "from a distance" on death row.

Hayes wanted to talk — but not about everything.

Including one last unanswered question.

Jurors convicted Komisarjevsky on all counts. Hayes was convicted on all counts except for one: first-degree arson. In his confession to police, Komisarjevsky said Hayes suggested that they kill the family and burn down the house. He said he saw Hayes set fire to the gas-drenched Petit home.

So did he, in fact, light the match?

Hayes wouldn't say.

"We both know what we're culpable for," he said.