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Death Sentence for Brutal Conn. Family Murders

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 08, 2010 12:03 PM

A jury in Connecticut gave the death sentence to a man convicted of the home invasion, torture, kidnapping and sexual assault of a woman and her two daughters. Steven Hayes was convicted on six charges which carry the possibility of a death penalty after the jury deliberated for 17 hours. Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters Michaela and Hayley were killed during the course of the crimes committed by Hayes and a co-defendant.

Many in the courtroom cried as the jury announced their verdict, reported the Hartford Courant. The jury found for the death sentence on six gruesome counts, including killing a child under the age of 16, killing in the course of a kidnapping and killing in the course of a sexual assault.

During a criminal trial where there is the potential for the death penalty, the trial and penalty phase of the proceedings may be bifurcated, or held separately. During the trial phase, evidence is given and a verdict can be reached by the jury as to the guilt of the defendant. If the defendant is found guilty, the jury hears more testimony during the sentencing phase. Some of this testimony comes from the victims and/or their survivors about what they suffered as a result of the crime. Some testimony comes from the defense who can offer factors which may mitigate the defendant's sentence to the point where death may not be warranted.

Common mitigating factors offered during a penalty phase of a trial include drug addiction and an abusive childhood. Hayes' attorneys brought up both factors to try to spare Hayes' life. However, the Courant reports, Hayes' brother offered evidence of how brutally Hayes treated him during childhood, which may have served to change the picture for the jury.

Prosecutor Gary Nicholson said the trial was very emotional, and said that the jury did an incredible job handling the case. "It's very tough dealing with a case like this," he told the Courant. "We're very thankful for the jury verdict and we're glad it's over."

Hayes' co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, will go on trial next year, reports the Courant. He too faces a possible death sentence.

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