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Komisarjevsky Trial Makes Plenty of News During Emotion-Filled Week

Selection of 12th juror, battle over witness lists and a state senator's wish for the defendant's public execution.

The state senator whose offhand remark caused an emotional turmoil at the second Cheshire home invasion trial said she has no regrets about what she said.

But defense lawyers for Joshua Komisarjevsky say they will file a motion Monday requesting a three-month trial delay because the off-color comment by Sen. Edith Prague could influence jurors against the defendant.

This was perhaps the most newsworthy week for the Komisarjevsky trial since it began, and it started off positively with the selection of the 12th juror.

The defense and prosecution have wrangled over jury selection for eight weeks, questioning hundreds of prospective jurors. Most were rejected because they despised the defendant, opposed capital punishment, knew someone who might be called as a witness, or were financially unable to serve on the jury for a three-month trial.

Komisarjevsky faces the death penalty for his part in the 2007 triple homicide. His co-defendant, Steven Hayes, was convicted last year and is on death row.

Police say they kidnapped and robbed the family, severely beat Dr. William Petit, raped and strangled Jennifer Hawke-Petit, sexually assaulted their 11-year-old daughter, then set fire to the house killing the two daughters as they unsuccessfully tried to flee. Dr. Petit escaped just before the fire, but was unable to stop it.

Throughout jury selection, the defense has fought against the release of the trial witness lists to the news media, arguing that witnesses for Komisarjevsky might be threatened and intimidated, and that would jeopardize his right to a fair trial.

On Wednesday, the day before Judge Jon C. Blue’s deadline for vacating sealing the witness lists, the Appellate Court extended the stay until it rules on the defense’s appeal in the matter.

Komisarjevsky, who is accused of masterminding the crime and committing the sexual assault on the youngest daughter, could be the most reviled criminal defendant in the state’s history.

Unlike Hayes, who appeared remorseful during his trial and opposed his attorneys’ efforts to save him from execution, Komisarjevsky has, at times, appeared cocky and narcissistic. In a prison diary, he belittled Petit for not trying harder to save his wife and daughters.

The law, however, guarantees him a fair trial, and a Quinnipiac poll earlier this year said state residents are almost equally divided between supporting the death penalty and replacing it with life in prison with no possibility of release.

Petit had become an outspoken opponent of a bill to abolish the death penalty, which passed the state House earlier this spring.

The bill faced a close vote in the state Senate this week when Prague, D-Columbia, and Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, announced on Wednesday they had decided to oppose it after meeting with Petit. That killed chances for passing the bill this year.

But Prague, 85, went farther in her comments, telling CT News Junkie, a political news website: "They should bypass the trial and take that second animal and hang him by his penis from a tree out in the middle of Main Street."

She appeared on WVITthe next morning and stated she did not regret saying it. The repeal bill would not have affected Komisarjevsky's or Hayes' sentences. It only applied to future cases. But Prague said Petit believed that abolishing the death penalty this year could make it harder for the jury to impose the death penalty on Komisarjevsky.

"I just hate that man for what he did to that family," Prague told the television interviewer. She added she didn’t know anyone who felt any sympathy for Komisarjevsky.

Her remarks angered Komisarjevsky’s defense attorneys, who have struggled to protect their client’s right to a fair trial.

Special public defender Jeremiah Donovan on Thursday began the process to request a three-month trial delay because jurors might be influenced by Prague’s "inflammatory" remark, but later told a Hartford Courant reporter he changed his mind because he was "a little agitated" and needed to express himself calmly.

Instead, Donovan said the defense would file a motion for the delay when court reconvenes Monday.

In recent months, the trial judge, Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue, has rejected defense motions to ban reporters from sending Twitter reports from the courtroom and to move the trial to another part of the state where news coverage of the case has not been as intense.

In March, Judge Roland Fasano rejected the defense offer for Komisarjevsky to plead guilty in return for a sentence of life with no possibility of release.

In recent months, the trial judge, Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue, has rejected defense motions to ban reporters from sending Twitter reports from the courtroom and to move the trial to another part of the state where news coverage of the case has not been as intense.

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