NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Attorneys for the second man charged with a deadly Connecticut home invasion want the location for his trial changed, citing prejudicial publicity from the first trial, and want the judge handling the case removed for what they call improper comments.
Attorneys for Joshua Komisarjevsky filed numerous pretrial motions Friday in New Haven Superior Court. One was a request to move the trial to Fairfield County, the next county over, saying Komisarjevsky had been so "demonized" during the first trial in New Haven that it was impossible for him to get a fair trial in New Haven.
Authorities say Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes tormented the family for hours in their Cheshire home in July 2007 before killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley. The girls' father, Dr. William Petit, was beaten but survived.
Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled Hawke-Petit. Authorities say he and Komisarjevsky tied her daughters to their beds, poured gasoline on or around them and set fire to their home.
Hayes was convicted and condemned to death in November by a New Haven jury. Jury selection for Komisarjevsky's trial is scheduled to start March 14.
Komisarjevsky's attorneys want Judge Jon Blue removed from the second trial. They argue that Blue repeatedly made gratuitous comments while presiding over Hayes' trial, such as saying there was "good reason" that Hayes was "a man universally despised."
Komisarjevsky's attorneys challenged Blue's suggestion that jurors could hug one another after hearing gruesome evidence one day.
"In a capital case involving charges of murder and sexual assault, with graphic images of the victims, jurors are sufficiently challenged to restrict their deliberations to facts and legal theories without emotional reinforcement from the bench," wrote Komisarjevksy's attorneys, Jeremiah Donovan and Walter Bansley. "Judge Blue's deeply troubling, injudicious comments are evidence of his identification with the jury and the mob mentality that has surrounded this prosecution these last several years."
The attorneys also criticized Blue for handing out cookies to the news media and the public one day. "To the extent that cookies were given to members of the Petit or Hawke families, or their supporters, a reasonable person could see it as a sign of favoritism, that is, a gift for those supporting the state in its prosecution of Steven Hayes," the attorneys wrote.
They expressed concerns that Blue would be reluctant to decide differently on any issue that he already ruled on in the first trial, for fear that it could make his judgment in the first trial vulnerable on appeal.
Blue declined to comment Friday. Prosecutors did not immediately return calls for comment Friday.
Komisarjevsky also argued that the murder charges that could expose him to the death penalty should be dismissed because evidence from the first trial showed that Hayes raped and killed Hawke-Petit and poured the gasoline and lit the fire that led to the smoke inhalation deaths of the girls. But prosecutors have said both men were equally responsibility for the crime and Hayes blamed Komisarjevsky, saying he escalated the violence from the beginning by beating Dr. Petit with a baseball bat.
Komisarjevsky's attorneys also want the judge to prohibit anyone from wearing pins, buttons, clothing or other paraphernalia associated with the victims or charities in their memory. They said relatives and supporters of the victims frequently wore such items in court, calling them the "Petit posse" and arguing it was "inherently prejudicial" to Komisarjevsky and a threat to his right to a fair trial.
Komisarjevsky also filed a motion arguing that prospective jurors should not be excused if they express opposition to the death penalty.
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