Oct 29, 2010

Two Views of Steven Hayes

Even his own brother would not defend the Cheshire killer.

Steven J. Hayes has been convicted of killing three members of a Connecticut family.
“Steven’s pattern of conniving goes back to early childhood,” Matthew Hayes said in a letter read in court on Thursday for a jury that must decide whether to sentence his brother, Steven J. Hayes, to death for murdering three members of the Petit family in Cheshire, Conn., in July 2007.

The description in Matthew Hayes’s letter, written to the police shortly after the killings, fits the prosecution’s portrayal of the defendant, who was convicted this month of capital murder, as a con man so skillful at manipulation that the remorse he expressed could not be trusted.

The defense, on the other hand, presented testimony on Thursday describing Mr. Hayes as a shattered man, in prison and trying to make sense of his involvement in a home invasion and the three murders for which he stands convicted. “He can’t live with himself,” a psychiatrist hired by the defense testified.

The warring descriptions of Mr. Hayes, now 47, came on one of the final days of testimony. The jury that convicted him on Oct. 5 is expected to begin deliberations on his sentence next week.

The psychiatrist called by the defense, Dr. Eric Goldsmith, brought a maudlin quiet to the courtroom as he described in detail the bottomless feelings of guilt he said Mr. Hayes had revealed. He said Mr. Hayes was in a perpetual struggle to understand his acts: “I think about how it could have happened, I don’t have an answer,” he quoted Mr. Hayes as saying.

Dr. Goldsmith said that in long prison interviews, Mr. Hayes portrayed his codefendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, who is to be tried later, as lying to push him to kill and rape the mother of the family, Jennifer Hawke-Petit. In his interviews, Dr. Goldsmith said, Mr. Hayes told him that he had sexually assaulted Ms. Hawke-Petit after he had strangled her.

He read from a note Mr. Hayes wrote before a drug overdose in January that may have been a suicide attempt: “All I want to do is die.”

“Although I am not the monster that Josh is,” the note continued, “I am one nevertheless.”

In the defense portrait, Mr. Hayes would suffer through decades of remorse if sentenced to life in prison. But in the prosecution portrait, Mr. Hayes was staging an elaborate show to avoid a death sentence.

The prosecutors had the letter from Matthew Hayes read aloud.

Matthew Hayes, two years younger than Steven, wrote that his brother had always been violent. In listing childhood offenses, he included Steven’s pushing his hand into a flame and pressing a revolver to his head. Steven was good at passing the blame to others, the letter said, adding that even early on, Steven had a “masterful skill of manipulating emotion.” Those who believe him “are his victims,” the letter said.

Matthew Hayes wrote about years in which his brother was arrested and imprisoned, and he said he had little sympathy for explanations that psychological forces were at work.

Matthew Hayes noted that he had come from the same family, broken by divorce, but had chosen a different path.

“Steven is not sick,” he said in the letter. “Steven is cunning and calculating.”

He made a point of noting that Mr. Hayes’s family had no need to get involved in the case against him. “There is enough to hang him without any family involvement,” he wrote.

But, he added in the letter, there was no way to avoid the pain of the case. “As the family of this monster,” he wrote, “we all have to live with the nightmares.”

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