Today, on this clear winter morning, my car seemed to drive itself from the driveway of my home in upper Fairfield County straight up to the outside of The New Haven Superior Courthouse.
Somewhere in the back of my mind was the nugget of factoid that today was the day for Probable cause hearing for one Steven Hayes, half of the reprobate pair of defendants charged with the assaults, kidnapping, and eventual murders of Jennifer, Hayley and 11 year old Michaela Petit on July 23rd. May they all rest in peace.
I hadn't planned to attend this hearing. In fact, I left my house early morning with the intention in mind of buying some milk, and perhaps a stop off to my area beach, something that I enjoyed when the fewest people were likely to be there, I'm strange that way I find it a very peaceful place in the winter months when at times I'm the only one there.
Obviously my subconscious mind had other ideas. I did have a vague sense that today was the day for something important happening, but couldn't recall exactly what. As I drove, I remembered, oh that's right today was to be the probable cause hearing for Steven Hayes, the older defendant "accused" in the Petit. As my mind filled with equal parts anger, pain and something akin to hate, my car simply righted itself towards I95 northbound.
It wasn't as if Id made a decision to attend the hearing. In fact, all practical considerations pointed towards not going; ' there would be way too many people there, there would be security issues galore, I'd probably never get in, and last but not least, what good would my presence serve - The Petit and Hawke family seemed to have a a great deal of support from friends, family and indeed the entire community, beloved as the victims, Jennifer, Hayley, Michaela and the lone survivor Dr William Petit are.
I put all those thoughts away and for the rest of the drive I drove in an almost hypnotic state because the next thing I knew--I was right smack in front of the New haven Courthouse: Miraculously, I found a convenient parking spot straight away, this was just one of several unusual happenings that were to happen on this day;
As I parked I was encouraged-though surprised by the lack of people outside. I'd fully expected a atmosphere reminiscent of the arraignment of these two monsters back in August. According to news coverage The Meridan courthouse had been stuffed with local citizens and press alike. And while the media comprised part of the crowd that day, the general public had turned out in droves as well, many simply to show support for the victims family, including Dr William Petit, the sole survivor of these awful crimes that robbed him of his wife and children and left him with a near fatal head injury. A picture of his face, bruised and stitched and filled with grief, attending his families memorial, was now a permanent resident in my mind and my heart.
The idea of a huge crowd had been one of the biggest reasons that Id decided earlier in the week not to attend the Hayes hearing. I was working on the date of the hearing for komisarjevsky, thus alleviating me of even the option of attending. But something deeper within me clearly wanted, or perhaps needed to go to this second one, despite the practical reasons not to.
When I arrived I noted a very modest gathering of press with cameras, set up at one corner of the courthouse. As I had left my home that morning with no idea of where I was really going, I had no idea what time this hearing was to begin---perhaps Id missed it and that would explain why the crowd and press was so thin... Glancing at my car clock I saw that it was 9;50 am.
Now most court proceedings that I'd attended were always in the morning and always at about this time. Another coincidence---Or was it--? It sure was beginning to seem that a higher power was at work here.
I spotted some movement up on the roof of an adjacent building, I discerned what appeared to be an armed man in some kind of dark swat-type-garb. It took a full 20 seconds or so for this to sink in. My first careening thought , was that some vigilante had been laying in wait to pick off Hayes...but just as quickly I realized that this was in fact the opposite - it was a cop, making sure that no one did take a shot at this criminal.!
Anger welled up as the reality of this irony hit me- this clandestine heightened security was there to protect a killer from possible vigilantism. It certainly seemed an over the top display for these low life child killers. With my mind reeling over the display on the roof, I managed to proceed, I walked through the security check at the entrance of the courthouse. I grabbed an elevator ride up to the 6th floor, where I'd been told that he hearing for one, Steven Hayes would be heard.
I was surprised however to run into a second security checkpoint set up outside the doors to the courtroom itself. Geesh I thought, they are really going to great lengths to protect the life of this horrible man!
This time I was given a wave over with a metal finding machine by a grim looking guard and then patted down on my leg regions. I can only suppose they're looking for hidden weaponry of some kind that defied the metal detectors strapped to my darn legs! ( I should point out here that I consider myself an innocuous looking female, 5'3" small frame,rapidly approaching middle-aged with an essentially docile manner)
Once past that little indignity, I found myself having to choose a seat on one of the available courtroom benches, while waiting for the hearing to begin. The courtroom was surprisingly more bare than I had ever imagined. I noticed the faces of some of the Petit and Hawke family members on the right side of the courtroom as one stood at the door looking in. And on the left side, a few rows in front of me was a man sitting alone that looked a bit like Dr Petit, although it was clearly not him. A bit more slender - perhaps a brother or a cousin I thought. His face looked very grim.
Like so many other people in Connecticut, from the moment I learned of this crime I have not been the same. My heart aches daily for this family, what they went through and what the survivor William Petit, is going through now. There is also a good deal of anger; for the killers as well as the state of Connecticut's long-ineffectual judicial system, who in effect, fed this family to the wolves.
You see, I know better than anyone else that this crime never should have never happened.
And yet it did. And here we sat awaiting the probable cause hearing for one of the two perpetrators of a crime, crimes not only against the Petit family, but against women, children and humanity.
Another reason that I thought I had decided not to attend this hearing, was because of an assumption that it would be extremely quick and uneventful --This was based upon co-defendant Joshua komisarjevsky.'s probable cause hearing this past Tuesday: Komisarjevsy technically waived his right to this hearing, and plead Not guilty to all of the charges against him for these very same crimes.
It should be mentioned that once any defendant waives his right to the probable cause hearing, a Not guilty plea is automatically entered on his behalf. And although apparently a standard practice, madly enough he actually said those words in response to" how do you plead to these charges "not guilty your honor."-
And despite understanding that this plea is automatic, I still welled up with indigence upon hearing this man use those words. I couldn't help but wonder how the family felt hearing this
It would seem that our judicial system has made a frivolous "tactical" game out of something as important as a defendants accountability-in this case for taking life, or an
entire families lives. Three very promising decent lives. And desecrating one others in the process-Dr Petit the sole survivor of this cowardly carnage of his family.
As I listened to attorney Thomas Ullmann, a candidate for a Napoleon complex if ever their was one, rattle on about Mr Hayes' rights in regards to the Media;s negative reporting of his client, my mind skittered away for just a second or two and then it hit me - Komisarjevsky's lawyer, Jeremiah Donovan, had stated on Tuesday that "there are many tactical reasons for a defendant to waive his right to a probable cause hearing" without elaborating but insinuating, that by doing just that for his client, there was a specific reason.
I suddenly understood his tactic; If the hearing were to proceed normally, without probable cause being waived, the prosecutor is required to lay out all of the evidenciary findings ie to back up the probable cause for the defendant to be charged with those crimes. In this case, that probale cause includes evidence found thus far for these men to be charged with 3 murders, 4 kidnappings, one assault and at least 2 sexual assaults. And remember, the press is at these hearings, thus all of the awful details that make these crimes so particularly heinous and cruel, are found within the details of those probable cause findings. And thus the attorney waives his clients "rights" to the probable cause hearing, but in effect still gets to plead not guilty, yet another unfair manipulation of the judicial system, designed to protect the rights of the wrongly accused and taken advantage of by the genuinely guilty by overly eager defense attorneys always looking for a way to hold the system hostage-all under the guise of everyone right to" a fair trial"
You see, unfortunately when violent brutal crimes like murder and rape are reduced to simple charges, as awful as they are, those crimes become antisepticized. It is that much easier for the listener or reader to detach , certainly from the depth of emotion that we would feel upon hearing the graphic details of the same crimes. Within those details is the experience of the victims. Their suffering, their fear their pain and where applicable their awful ends their death.
It is thus a small leap to begin imagining what Mrs Petit and her young daughters experienced in the commission of these crimes. The vivid terror and brutality of their last hours .And this, this is the last thing that any defense attorney wants for their reprobate clients.. Thus, the probable cause hearing is 'waived" and the public and thus the potential jury pool as well as the press, do not hear those details that give us a window into the last terrible hours of the victims lives.
"Thank you your honor" from Steven Hayes snapped me out of my reverie. This was yet another thing that sickened me within these proceedings, hearing this animal's feigned deference to the judge now, quite a change from his courtroom manner at his arraignment, which was cold flat, surly and definitively unrepentant.
Now, having been coached undoubtedly by his lawyers, and likely more aware of what could easily await him if he is found guilty, his manner has changed remarkably, to one of deference to Judge Damiani. While I'm certain that his attorney prepped him, how to best ingratiate himself upon the judge, and even more importantly, damage control - trying to re- create a less horrible image of the man, in the court of public opinion..
This predictable posturing aside, I simply could not believe nor stomach the seemingly over- politeness and solicitousness from this judge towards this man who by his own account, sexually assaulted a mother of two within earshot of her children who were tied upstairs to their beds, strangled her to death with his bare hands while she begged for her life, the children awaiting their own horrible deaths that they knew would soon follow. On the terror and cruelty level these crimes are off the charts.
This man poured gasoline on two girls and set them on fire, leaving them to die a terrifying, excruciating death. He was caught as he scrambled out of their house with Joshua Komsirajevsky, laughing -laughing! And wearing a school- hat stolen from Hayley Petit . The depravity is simply off the charts.
So you will have to excuse me if I cannot comprehend this over the top civility, the excessive physical protection and the general deference and consideration extended to these men. This court is a place where justice is supposed to live. This man is one of two caught red handed committing one of the most brutal crimes that this state has ever seen. And while I don't expect the judge to berate and beat them (although i have to admit, the base part of me enjoys the notion for just a nano-second, some sternness seems appropriate, given the situation.
Out of respect for the surviving members of this family, many of whom were in attendance today.What of their rights "your "honor" Or is that none of your concern?
These men should be treated with the absolute the most basic of rights as allowed by law and again the same of considerations for their physcial and emotional welfare. Certainly, skip the pleasantries, no "good mornings" and "how are you today's"? Its inappropriate and likely maddening to the family and anyone else in attendence that knows the detaisl of these crimes.
I saw this very same thing in the court transcripts for Co defendent Komisarjevsky's multiple burglaries in 2002. The judge that heard those cases gave a new meaning to the word solicitous in his dealings with this man and his family. The crimes before him were not yet murder, rape arson and kidnapping-(Although K. was arrested for setting fire to an abandoned gas station at the ripe age of 14 15) there were a multitude of dangerous home invasions, (although they were incorrectly chosen burglary charges whereupon in each instance, Komisarjevsky chose the late night early am hours, when the homeowners were in the homes, nestled in their beds, when he chose repeatedly to break in and rob them. This he did, because as he put it," it was too boring when no one was home. "
He didn't get the charge, the thrill, the high". Classic sociopath behavior and for a change the prosecutor in those cases saw the potential for considerably more serious harm to innocent citizens at the hands of the young man before him.
He labeled him a threat to the people of our state and he was right. But apparently the prosecutors handling the set of break ins, could not find let alone forward his criminal records including his sentencing transcripts and the details of the multiple arrest warrants to the Connecticut Parole board, who paroled him none the less, because they were used to operating under these conditions despite regular protests to the head prosecutor Kevin Kane's office,
The last memo written to Mr Kane from the Ct Parole Board was in fact dated june 2007 3 weeks before the Petit family was killed. Reportedly a change was being looked into on how the state would file such essential paperwork, in order for it to be more accessible for parole purposes. The change did not come in time for the Petit family.
The official reason given by the powers that be-copying costs and long standing intro- departmental file-sharing/obtaining problems.
I was also disheartened to hear from presiding judge Damiano ".... that nothing of much consequence will be going on for quite some time...". in reference to the next scheduled hearing date in late November, which the defendant today waived his right to personally appear at, presumably due to the drastic security concerns at the court house, or so stated by his attorney Thomas Ullmann.
This coward has no problem raping and murdering women, but is afraid someone may take a shot at him on the courthouse steps. Or else he simply cant be bothered to show up at inconsequential hearings.
I went. I listened and I watched. Not as a voyeur, but as a supporter. I saw Mrs. Petit-
hawke's sister, Cindy Renn, who I recognized from a television interview just days after the crimes. She was composed but clearly deeply burdened and sad, She was supported by a circle of friends and family. Dr Petit still recovering was not there, something tells me that he is not ready to see the killers of his wife and children anyway. It is understandable, his post traumatic stress must be severe. I pray daily for this man and the rest of the Hawke and Petit families.
I gleaned a bit of insight as well as some new information about the ongoing case, although as I said this was not my reason for going. I still am not certain why I went, but I do know that i was deeply compelled to be there. I wanted to honor the Petits in some way and perhaps because of my own history with the Connecticut judicial system, try to be a bit of a watchdog for them and and everyone else who has been affected by this crime.
Anger and tears welled up several times this morning, along with indigence and an intermittent sense of voyeurism into this surreal process that just seemed so hollow. When the
hearing ended it was 11: 30 am. It started at 11;04..
Several things stuck with me all day. One was the appearance of the defendant Steven Hayes.
All of the media photos we've seen were taken the day of the arrest or were previous mugshots from other arrests or paroles. In them, he looked like a proverbial thug; slightly under average height looking to be 5; 7" maybe 5 8 at the most, he was very stocky, broad much like one sees mobster bodyguard types: pudgy, but strong looking and with a decidedly mean countenance, an ugly from the soul. Their is a deep deep darkness in those eyes that you cannot hide.
Today he appeared a completely different person. At first I thought that this was the wrong man, I even had to ask a woman sitting in front of me who this hearing was for. She was youngish 19 21 year old girl who almost apologetically said quietly Steven Hayes" It made me wonder if she was a relative perhaps. She seemed in disbelief throughout most of thee short proceeding. Perhaps that was his adult daughter that I'd read about. Or another relative or friend. Either way she looked embarrassed.
Then the clerk said his name. I had to squint to get a better look. He was standing only 3- 4 rows ahead of me and a bit on the diagonal, and there were a few wooden benches partially obstructing my view. He was surprisingly short, 5' 6" at the most and he had apparently lost a lot of weight- His head, previously shaved a.k.a the whole Vin Diesel, wanna be A BAD GUY-look, now the previously shiny head had errant tufts of blackish grayish hair, sprouting out of it. giving him pathetic look. He certainly no longer appeared imposing, and I imagined this was likely by design via his attorneys, and perhaps partly the result of the predicament that he had found himself in.
He admitted upon the judges standard questioning that yes he was on daily medication, presumably for pain and "anxiety" and something else probably depression..The judge apparently worried that he was able to make decisions regarding his case with a clear head today. Hayes said "oh yes" regarding his being on daily medications, a bit too earnestly and in a way that sounded like of course I am, didn't you know JUDGE?
Hayes seemed to be shrinking, diminishing, and I admit that I found a modicum of satisfaction in this. I wanted to believe that with nothing but time on his hands he realized the despicably of his acts and as a result his body began to reflect his conscience and shrivel. However, in reality, he is probably responding to the seriousness of his own predicament and the growing attention that the case is getting which in trun is aiming a lot of hatred and venom straight between his eyes.