Family Struggles To Cope

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Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her youngest daughter checked out groceries at 7:30 Sunday night at a Stop & Shop a mile or so from their Cheshire house.

Police investigating the home invasion that left Hawke-Petit and daughters Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, dead now believe their killers were watching as they returned to the family's white Mercedes-Benz in the parking lot.

The suspects, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, followed the pair back to their Sorghum Mill Drive home, police sources said. Hours later, at about 3 a.m., they would enter the home through a cellar bulkhead door, terrorizing their victims for more than six hours before killing them, police said. They left a beaten Dr. William Petit Jr. for dead in the basement, but he was able to escape before the suspects set the home on fire, authorities said.

Investigators are still trying to answer a key question: Did the suspects randomly select Hawke-Petit and her daughter or did they have a prior connection to the family?

What investigators do know, law enforcement sources said, is that once the suspects saw where the Petits lived, they went to a local Wal-Mart and purchased rope and an air rifle. The suspects, who both have long criminal records and were out on parole, then parked their car slightly more than a mile away before entering the home, sources said.

At about 9 a.m., Hayes and Hawke-Petit, 48, drove to the Bank of America in Maplecroft Plaza, the same plaza where Hawke-Petit and her daughter shopped the night before. Hawke-Petit withdrew $15,000 but was able to alert bank personnel that her family was being held hostage. She was strangled when they returned to the home. Her daughters died of smoke inhalation.

New details emerged Wednesday, including:

Investigators believe Hayes left the house at around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. to fill up four containers with gasoline. Hayes got lost driving on his way back to the home and had to call Komisarjevsky at the home for directions, authorities said.

The first Cheshire police officer to arrive at the scene, Det. Dennis Boucher, heard at least one of the girls screaming from inside the house. As he approached, the suspects tried to run him down in the family's Chrysler Pacifica, which crashed into two cruisers down the street. Shortly after Boucher arrived, the house exploded into flames, fueled by the gallons of gasoline spread around the girls and their mother's body.

Boucher had arrested Komisarjevsky in 2002 for a string of burglaries in Cheshire.

Petit, 50, was probably unconscious for almost the entire ordeal after he confronted the two men and was beaten with a baseball bat. Sources said he woke up to hear his wife screaming and pleading for her life. When her screams stopped and as flames from the fire rose around him, he managed to hop out the basement door and reach a neighbor.

Robert Farr, chairman of the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Parole, said Wednesday the board didn't have all the facts on Komisarjevsky's background when it chose to parole him in April. If it had, he said, the board's decision might have been different. Hayes was paroled in May.

Hayes, 44, is being held at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers while Komisarjevsky, 26, is at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield. Both are separated from the general prison population, said Department of Correction spokesman Brian Garnett.

They are scheduled to appear in Superior Court in New Haven on Aug. 7. New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington said Wednesday he expects to decide by then whether to pursue the death penalty against the men.

Dearington has pursued the death penalty in only one other case in his career -- the murders of Katherine "Kitty'' Kleinkauf and her children, Rachael Crum, 6, and Kyle Redway, 4, in their Guilford home on Dec. 27, 2000. Jonathan Mills was convicted but the jury decided against sentencing him to death.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes have been charged with sexual assault, arson, kidnapping and risk of injury to a minor and are being held with bail set at $15 million each.

The girls, sources said, were tied to their beds and raped, then left to burn after gasoline was poured around their beds and ignited. Hawke-Petit was strangled on the first floor and gasoline was poured around her body as well. Their deaths were ruled homicides.

Law enforcement sources said that while on parole, Hayes was working for a landscaping company from the Farmington Valley. Police were trying to determine whether the company may have done work at the Petit home, the sources said.

As part of their parole restrictions, Komisarjevsky and Hayes had to get full-time jobs and report weekly to a parole officer. Department of Correction officials said both men had gotten jobs, although they will not release where, and had been reporting to their parole officers.

Monday's tragedy has some people questioning how two career criminals could have been released from custody. Department of Correction officials have said Komisarjevsky and Hayes were considered nonviolent offenders.

While defending the board's decision to parole both men, Farr said Wednesday that the board had no idea a Superior Court judge had called Komisarjevsky a "cold, calculating predator'' during a 2002 sentencing because a transcript of the sentencing was not included in his parole file, even though state law required it to be there.

Komisarjevsky was sentenced to nine years on those burglary charges, but served three before he was placed in a halfway house, where he met Hayes.

The parole board was not aware of news reports that described Komisarjevsky as wearing night goggles and slashing window screens during burglaries in the Cheshire and Bristol area.

"I'm not suggesting that those items would have been enough in denying parole,'' Farr said. "What I'm saying is, if we had it or the Department of Correction had it, there might have been a psychological evaluation that would have maybe turned up something.''

Farr said the board routinely does not get full sentencing transcripts in which the prosecution and defense summarize their cases.

Inmate files are supposed to have -- at minimum -- a police report, a summary of the case and the defense attorney's version of events and circumstances as well as the sentencing transcript.

Farr said he reviewed the two suspects' case files over the past two days, and it appears their release on parole was "appropriate'' based on the available evidence.

Komisarjevsky is believed to be the grandson of Theodore Komisarjevsky, a leading 20th century Russian theater director and designer who once oversaw Moscow's prestigious Bolshoi theater.

Komisarjevsky's grandmother is Ernestine Stodelle, an internationally known dancer, author and dance critic. Stodelle, who has a dance studio in Cheshire, was also the wife of the late author and columnist John Chamberlain.

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