Parolees arraigned in Cheshire home invasion

The state medical examiner confirmed Tuesday night that Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, was strangled and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela died of smoke inhalation. All three deaths were ruled homicides.

Joshua Komisarjevsky, 26, of Cheshire and Steven Hayes, 44, of Winsted were arraigned Tuesday in Meriden Superior Court and charged with aggravated sexual assault, assault, arson, robbery, kidnapping, risk of injury to children and larceny. State police said Tuesday night more charges are pending.

Komisarjevsky lived less than two miles from the victims.

Dr. William Petit Jr., 50, remained hospitalized with head injuries he suffered in the attack.

"He's doing OK physically. Emotionally he is devastated and still worried about others," said Petit's pastor the Rev. Stephen Volpe, who has visited the doctor Monday and Tuesday. Volpe added that Petit's relatives are keeping from him certain details of the case. He would not elaborate.

The family issued its first public statement about the case on Tuesday.

"Our precious family members have been the victims of horrible, senseless, violent assaults. We are understandably in shock and overwhelmed with sadness as we attempt to gather together to support one another and recognize these wonderful, giving beautiful individuals who have been so cruelly taken from us," the statement said.

The nature of the allegations would appear to expose the defendants to the possibility of the death penalty. A message was left Tuesday with New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington, who would make that decision.

The two men had entered the home at about 3 a.m. Monday, planning to burglarize it, state police said Tuesday. When they found the family home, they beat Dr. Petit, then tied up his wife and daughters.

Authorities were tipped off that the family was in danger by employees at a local bank when one of the suspects forced Hawke-Petit to make a withdrawal around 9:30 a.m. Bank employees became suspicious and called police, who drove to the Petit home.

The suspects were caught in the family's car after ramming several cruisers as they fled the burning home, which they apparently had torched to cover their tracks, authorities said.

Hawke-Petit and her daughters were found dead inside. Dr. Petit escaped the blaze and told police what happened.

Judge Christina G. Dunnell on Tuesday set bond for both Komisarjevsky and Hayes at $15 million and transferred the cases to New Haven Superior Court, where both men are scheduled to appear Aug. 7. Dunnell said she agreed with the high bonds recommended by officials, citing both men's lengthy criminal histories.

At the time of the killings, Hayes and Komisarjevsky were both free on parole after serving prison time for burglary convictions in 2003, according to Bail Commissioner Garcia Harris. Before they were paroled this spring, they spent time in the same Hartford halfway house last year, said Brian Garnett, a Correction Department spokesman.

Neither man, however, has been convicted of violent crimes, and both were deemed appropriate candidates for supervised parole, Garnett said.

"Both were on a weekly reporting schedule with their parole officers and had been in full compliance with the requirements of their release, including being employed on a full-time basis," Garnett said.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes, both in orange prison jump suits and shackles, did not enter pleas and answered only "Yes" a few times when asked if they understood their rights. Their public defenders declined to comment after the proceeding.

The deaths of the mother and her daughters stunned the quiet suburban town of about 29,000 next to Waterbury, and overwhelmed the families and friends of both the victims and the suspects.

Komisarjevsky's family also released a statement Tuesday at his home.

"This is an absolute tragedy. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the Petit family (and all those whose lives they touched). We cannot understand what would have made something like this happen. There is nothing else we can say at this time."

Neighbors Sean Clarke and Joseph Noel, both 11, said the only other incidents in their neighborhood that they could remember were a car accident and a chimney fire.

"I was seriously scared," Sean said. "I was freaked out."

Authorities did not say what they believe led Komisarjevsky and Hayes to the Petits' home.

Prosecutor James R. Turcotte declined to discuss the allegations.

"The facts speak for themselves in this case," he said.

Relatives and friends of the Petits went to the court appearance but did not comment afterward.

Nancy Manning of Rocky Hill said she had a medical appointment scheduled with Dr. Petit on Tuesday, but his office called her to tell her it had been canceled. She went to the Meriden court proceeding.

"It's a very sad day," she said. "The man's life is disintegrated now. His family was his life."

Petit, the president of the Hartford County Medical Association, is a noted specialist in diabetes and endocrinology and the medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain.

Hawke-Petit, 48, was a well-liked nurse and co-director of the health center at Cheshire Academy, a private boarding school. Academy officials said grief counseling was available and e-mails were sent out Tuesday to the parents of the nearly 400 students.

"We're an international school, so a lot of our kids are literally in a lot of other countries right now," said Cheshire Academy spokesman Philip Moore.

"We wish there wasn't a separation," he said. "While we're geographically distant, we're emotionally close."

Moore said a memorial service may be held when classes resume in the fall.

Volpe, Petit's pastor at Cheshire United Methodist Church said the church would remain open over the next three days for prayer and meditation for mourners.

Helayne Lightstone, a spokeswoman for The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain, said an employee prayer service for Dr. Petit will be held at the hospital on Friday at noon. It will not be open to the public.

The hospital has also made grief counselors available to staff.

"Another day has gone by and it's no less shocking," she said.