Joshua Komisarjevsky will return to a New Haven courtroom today for a hearing on whether the fact that some Cheshire police dispatch tapes from the morning of the 2007 Petit family triple murder were not disclosed to the defense warrants his getting a new trial.
Superior Court Judge Jon Blue has scheduled a hearing for today to hear arguments on whether the recordings of phone calls between officers as the murders unfolded on the morning of July 23, 2007, could have aided Komisarjevsky's defense.
Komisarjevsky and Stephen Hayes were both convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and daughters Hayley and Michaela. The men were arrested by Cheshire police as they fled the fire they had set inside the family's Sorghum Mill Road home.
In a four-page motion filed last Tuesday, the state agreed with Komisarjevsky's attorneys, Moira Buckley and John Holdridge, that at least eight phone calls recovered from CDs discovered in a town hall vault seven years after the murders were not turned over to defense attorneys before trial.
Among the calls is one that reveals for the first time that police took steps to intercept the vehicle in which Hawke-Petit had been driven to a local bank before she and her daughters were killed.
The call between Officer Robert Regan and Sgt. Chris Cote was at 9:25:15, or slightly more than one minute after Hawke-Petit left the Bank of America with $15,000 cash and entered the family's Pacifica being driven by Hayes.
Regan told Cote that the vehicle was headed out of the plaza where the bank is located "toward Sorghum Mill Road." Cote was instructed to "head down toward that area and see if we can intercept this car."
Cote, the document indicates, responded that he was on Maple Avenue — the street that runs behind the plaza — and that "either he was about to turn onto West Main Street or that 'they' turned onto West Main Street." Maple Avenue intersects West Main Street at the corner of the shopping plaza where the bank is located.
It is unclear if "they" means Hayes and Hawke-Petit. The motion does not indicate whether Cote tried to intercept the vehicle or whether he saw the SUV.
The defense initially appealed to the state Supreme Court, which remanded the case back to Blue. The defense motion asks Blue to rectify the court record from Komisarjevsky's case to include the previously missing calls. It is unclear if Blue will decide whether the new information is enough to warrant a new trial or if the evidence will then go back to the state Supreme Court to decide.
Defense attorneys are expected to argue that Cheshire police did not turn over evidence to protect themselves from criticism over their response. Cheshire police officers were outside the Petit home for at least 20 minutes, setting up a perimeter, while Hayes raped and strangled Hawke-Petit and the two men set the fire while the girls were tied to their beds.
Officers watched as Dr. William Petit, who had been knocked unconscious with a baseball bat and tied up in the basement all night, escaped through the bulkhead and crawled to a neighbor's house to call 911. By that time Hayes and Komisarjevsky had set the fire and tried to escape.
The Courant obtained copies of 41 phone calls made on a second phone line and not among the dispatch tapes played at Komisarjevsky's trial. Among those calls were some from SWAT team members asking if they were needed and a call from the department hostage negotiator who was told not to come in.
Komisarjevsky's attorneys filed a motion with the Supreme Court arguing that some of those calls had never been turned over to the defense before trial and therefore Komisarjevsky deserved a new trial.
In September 2014, Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe announced that police had found recordings on a CD in a town hall vault that appeared to have more calls from the day of the Petit murders, and that had never been heard before. Those recordings were turned over to prosecutors and defense attorneys for analysis.
Dryfe said the CDs that were found in town hall appear to be backups. When Cheshire officials were asked in 2013 about the existence of recordings that were not handed over to the defense and prosecution, they responded that the tapes had been destroyed by a lightning strike in 2010 and were no longer available.