Connecticut prosecutor says newly discovered evidence in fatal home invasion warrants hearing

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HARTFORD, Connecticut — A Connecticut prosecutor has determined that newly discovered phone recordings related to a 2007 home invasion that killed a mother and her two daughters warrant a court hearing in the appeal of one of two men sentenced to death for the murders, to see if his defense at trial was harmed by not having the evidence.

Prosecutor Marjorie Allen Dauster said in a court motion Wednesday that backup recordings of calls made to the Cheshire police department on the day of the killings were found last month or in late July in Cheshire Town Hall. The discovery came three years after town police told prosecutors the recordings were unavailable, before Joshua Komisarjevsky's trial began.

Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes were convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the July 23, 2007, killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, at the family's home in Cheshire, after having terrorized them for hours. Hawke-Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit, was severely beaten but survived.

Komisarjevsky's appellate lawyers, Moira Buckley and John Holdridge, filed a motion with the state Supreme Court last month seeking a hearing on whether the state withheld certain phone recordings and to get the recordings added to the trial record for appeal purposes. They also asked the Supreme Court to overturn Komisarjevsky's convictions and order a new trial.

Buckley and Holdridge say in court documents that the recordings withheld from trial defense lawyers would have helped prove a defense theory that the police response to the home invasion was inadequate — an effort to question the credibility of police witnesses who testified against Komisarjevsky. Hawke-Petit's family has been critical of the police response, saying officers waited too long to go into the home and try to save the victims.

Komisarjevsky insists that he didn't intend to kill anyone and that Hayes set the fire that killed the two girls. Authorities say Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled Hawke-Petit, while the girls died from smoke inhalation. Komisarjevsky also was convicted of sexually assaulting Michaela.

The killings came after Hayes took Hawke-Petit to a local bank and forced her to withdraw money.

Buckley and Holdridge say recordings of six calls made to and from the police department routine phone lines weren't turned over to Komisarjevsky's trial lawyers.

One of those calls established that there was a police officer outside the Petit home when Hayes and Hawke-Petit returned from the bank, just before the house went up in flames, according to Buckley and Holdridge. Dauster said there appears to be no recording of such a call.

The second and third calls included officers who responded to the scene, and recordings of those calls weren't turned over to Komisarjevsky's trial lawyers, Buckley and Holdridge say. Dauster said a recording of the second call was recently found with others at the town hall, while a recording of the third call hasn't been found.

In the last three calls not turned over to trial lawyers, according to Buckley and Holdridge, a Cheshire hostage negotiator is told not to come to the police station, a SWAT officer is told not to come to the police station and a Cheshire officer questions whether Hawke-Petit was telling the truth when she told a bank teller her family was being held hostage.

Dauster said recordings of those three calls were turned over to Komisarjevsky's trial lawyers in 2007.

"There are factual disputes about whether all of those were disclosed and if any weren't disclosed," Dauster said Thursday.

Buckley and Holdridge declined to comment.

Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue in New Haven is expected to hold the hearing on the recordings and determine whether they should be added into the trial record for appeal purposes. Komisarjevsky's appeal of his death sentence is pending before the state Supreme Court.

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