As It Happens

Connecticut's death penalty decision leaves victims' families feeling conflicted

Reverend Richard Hawke's daughter and granddaughters were raped and murdered in their home in Connecticut, but he remains conflicted about the state's decision to abolish the death penalty. The decision commuted the death sentences to life in prison for the two men who murdered his family.
Dr. William Petit Jr. (left) survived the brutal home invasion attack in which his daughters Michaela (front) Hayley (center rear) and wife Jennifer Hawke-Petit were murdered. The two men convicted of the killings had their death sentences commuted to life in prison when the state abolished the death penalty. (AP Photo/William Petit, File)

Eleven men will be spared execution in Connecticut. And now, the families of their victims are feeling conflicted about what that means. 

In 2012, the state abolished the death penalty — but the decision was not retroactive. Those who had already been sentenced to death would still be executed. Last week, Connecticut's highest court overturned that ruling. 

Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky were on death row for the murder and rape of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley and Michaela. The murderers will now serve life sentences instead.

Richard Hawke is Jennifer's father. He's a Methodist minister, and he was deeply conflicted by their original sentences. His church and its teachings do not support the death penalty. The rest of the family, however, had taken a vote and decided to push for the death penalty. 

"It was difficult for me, but I agreed with the family," Hawke tells As It Happens guest host Matt Galloway. 

While he accepts the court's decision to overturn their sentences, he remains conflicted. "That's a difficult question to answer," Hawke responds when asked if he wants the men to be put to death. "I probably will die before those two men die."

I probably will die before those two men die.- Richard Hawke

The crime was horrific. In the early-morning hours of July 23, 2007,  Hayes and Komisarjevsky jumped Jennifer's husband, William Petit Jr., as he slept on the porch. They beat and tied him up, then did the same thing to the rest of the family. After scouring the house, Hayes took Jennifer to the bank and forced her to withdraw $15,000. Once they returned, Hayes raped her. Komisarjevsky had already raped her 11-year old daughter.

The convicts then doused the family and the home with gasoline and fled. Petit managed to escape and survived, but his wife and daughters perished in the fire. 

Petit was a vocal advocate, calling for the original death sentences to be upheld. Hawkes says he has not spoken to his son-in-law since the court ruling. 

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