A Connecticut jury found Steven Hayes, 47, guilty this week of the 2007 murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. Hayes, a career criminal, was convicted on 16 of the 17 charges against him. He faces the death penalty for his part in the kidnapping, robbery, rape, and murders.
Co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, has yet to be tried, but attorneys for Hayes tried to convince the jury that Hayes was simply following Komisarjevsky’s lead. Pointing fingers is an over-used and too often, effective, tool for defense lawyers. Thankfully, this jury was much too savvy to be fooled by a shell game.
Or maybe they were simply too horrified by the depths of evil this case represents.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky, both ex-cons who met at a halfway house, broke in the Petit’s family Cheshire home. They found Dr. Petit, 50, asleep on a downstairs couch, beat him with a baseball bat and tied him up before ransacking the house in search of money. Failing to find as much money as they hoped, Hayes then drove Jennifer Hawke-Petit to her bank, where she withdrew $15,000.
Hawke-Petit told the bank teller that her family was being held hostage, and urged the bank employee to contact police. When the two returned to the Petit home, Komisarjevsky reportedly told Hayes that he had raped young Michaela, and urged Hayes to do the same to the girls’ mom. Hayes did that — he raped Hawke-Petit.
Meanwhile, Dr. Petit escaped from the basement and was rolling across the yard – his feet still tied – in an effort to get help. The men poured gasoline on and around the girls, who were tied to their beds, as was their mother, and then set fire to the house. Then the two men attempted to flee but were apprehended by the police and taken into custody.
Connecticut hasn’t put any criminal to death since 1960 but if advocates for the Petit family are successful, Hayes will get the death sentence. While the death penalty may be a matter of debate, the harm inflicted upon the Petit family that day can’t be described as anything other than evil. The depth of such dark deeds threaten to haunt Dr. Petit for the rest of his life, as it would most of us, were it not for this one thing – Dr. Petit’s unwavering faith.
Holding a press conference following the jury’s decision, Dr. Petit explained to reporters how it was that he was able to navigate the trial: “We did our best to keep our faith in God that justice would be served.”
Reporters, who are always looking for the next sound bite, rushed right past that breathtaking moment. The lone surviving victim of a crime spree so violent and so horrific it made many of the jurors and those in court physically and emotionally sick stood before the world and testified to the goodness of God.
After Evil spewed its putrid darkness throughout his home and destroyed his most precious treasures, Dr. Petit fought back the tears and declared that God is good, God is faithful, God is just.
One reporter, talking over the others, asked Dr. Petit how he would find the strength to face yet another trial next year, when the trial for Joshua Komisarjevsky gets underway.
“If your family was destroyed by evil, I think you would all try to do the same thing and be there for your family,” he said.
Hayes and Komisarjevsky were able to bind Petit once, but he has resolved that they never will again. Petit is refuting the forces of hatred, bitterness, and disrespect. Instead, he has testified to a redemptive power that renders evil ineffective.
What enables Dr. Petit to get out of bed in the morning, much less to sit through one grueling trial then another?
His faith. His hope in a God who is good, a God who is faithful, a God who is just.
Perhaps someone should have turned and asked those reporters, do you know the God of Dr. William Petit?