World and Nation

Jury begins deliberations in murders of mother and two daughters

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — After hearing weeks of often gruesome testimony, and with more than 200 pieces of trial exhibits to sift through, jurors on Monday began deliberating the charges against a parolee accused in a home invasion in Cheshire, Conn., that left a mother and her two daughters dead.

Jurors finished at 4:30 p.m. without reaching a verdict; they are to continue on Tuesday. At one point, they sent out a note asking for a transcript of a police interview with the defendant, Steven J. Hayes, in which he confesses to his involvement in the July 2007 crime. After being told that no such transcript exists, the foreman said the panel did not need it.

Hayes, 47, faces 17 charges, including murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, burglary and arson. Included are six capital felony counts. A conviction by the jurors on any of the capital charges would require a second phase of the trial for the same jury to consider whether Hayes is to be sentenced to death. The jurors must reach a unanimous decision on each count, Judge Jon C. Blue told them.

Two alternate jurors were sent home before deliberations began with instructions they may be called back.

The panel, 12 jurors and the two alternates, heard closing arguments in State Superior Court on Friday. The lead defense lawyer, Thomas J. Ullmann, conceded that Hayes committed a series of crimes including the murder and rape of the mother of the family, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, kidnapping all four members of the family and committing larceny and burglary.

But he made several arguments intended to persuade the jurors not to convict Hayes of the six capital counts.

The testimony showed that Hayes and another man, Joshua Komisarjevsky, who will be tried separately, entered the Petit house in the middle of the night, beat and restrained the father, Dr. William A. Petit Jr., and wreaked havoc, including the rape and strangulation of Hawke-Petit.

The two daughters, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, died of smoke inhalation in a fire set by the intruders.

The two men met at a Connecticut halfway house for parolees. In the hours before the crime, which they planned that day, Hayes even sent a text message with the phrase LOL — “laugh out loud” — apparently to describe his enthusiasm.

Petit survived and testified at the trial. He has called for the execution of Hayes and Komisarjevsky, whose trial will likely occur next year. The Cheshire case has played a central part in a debate in Connecticut about whether to repeal the capital punishment law.