Steven Hayes Receives Death Penalty For Brutal Family Murder

*Trigger warning*

I have never believed that capital punishment is a moral choice.  For many people, though, that’s a challenging view to defend, especially in light of cases like the murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her teenage daughters in July 2007, for which Steven Hayes was given the death penalty.  The case, which continues to be deeply shocking and disturbing, raises difficult questions about the circumstances under which society can put a criminal to death.

Steven Hayes, who the Hartford Courant described as a “career burglar” (having spent his life in and out of prison for burglary), entered the Petit house with another burglar, Joshua Komisarjevsky, on a morning in July and committed a series of horrific crimes.  They clubbed Dr. William Petit, on the head with a baseball bat and tied him up in the basement, while at one point sending his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, to the bank to withdraw a large sum of money.  During this period, according to testimony, Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted their 11-year-old daughter, Michaela.  When they returned from the bank, Hayes raped and strangled Hawke-Petit.  The two men then doused Michaela and her sister, 17-year-old Hayley, with gasoline and set the house on fire.  The girls died of smoke inhalation.  Dr. Petit survived the attack, stumbling out of the basement of the house covered in blood.

Hayes was sentenced to death on six capital counts.  Komisarjevsky will go on trial next year, and could also receive the death penalty.

Reading about this crime, let alone writing about it, is deeply upsetting, especially when coupled with Dr. Petit’s testimony upon hearing the verdict earlier today.

“This is a verdict for justice,” Petit said to reporters outside the courthouse. “But I was really thinking of the tremendous loss…I was sad for the loss we have all suffered.”  He thanked the jury for doing their job, saying, “I appreciate the fact that there was seven women on the jury. This was a case of sexual predation…I liked to see women stand up for other women.”

Petit’s loss certainly has to be considered, in addition to the extreme trauma that he suffered at the hands of the murderers.  But there is significant precedent for families of murder victims who remain against the death penalty, even in the face of this kind of suffering and loss, and many of their tragic yet moving stories have been posted online by Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation.  Chris Castillo of Beaumont, TX, whose mother was murdered, writes,

“I believe that money spent to finance death penalty cases could be used to help crime victims with bereavement costs, burial fees and counseling. Also, that money could be spent to solve cold cases, like my mother’s.

I do believe in justice, but I don’t believe in the death penalty. I also believe if one innocent person is put to death at the hand of the state that is one person too many.”

It may seem easy for me to say that the death penalty is immoral in all circumstances – I have never undergone a horrible trauma like Petit’s or Castillo’s, and I hope I never will.  But I do believe that to turn death into an instrument of punishment is to validate the violence committed by the murderer, and to turn our government into an instrument of force.  This is to say nothing of the expense involved in capital punishment, or our disturbing habit of executing people who may have been innocent.  The Petit murder case was unusually horrible, and certainly makes me question, however briefly, my conviction that people are inherently good.  But the death penalty is an ethical issue that demands absolutism, and that means that even in these terrible circumstances, killing to punish killing is a morally reprehensible act.

Photo from Flickr.


Annmari Lundin
Annmari L7 years ago

Well, what is a few innocently executed people compared to being rid of all the monsters with the push of a button? Why not go all the way and prosecute and execute the politicians that send women and men out in wars on false evidence of WMDs and then order them to kill, mame and burn other innocents? When we practice an eye for an eye the whole world will go blind!
I can surely relate to how vengeful I would be if something horrible happened to people close to me by the hands of a repentless criminal. But that is my personal need for revenge, not that of a nation. I have been a victim of several crimes, mostly aggrevated assault and bullying and I wouldn't mind seeing those a-holes whipped in public. But that's my personal view and sentiment and I can on a rational basis understand why that's not going to happen. On the other hand I can't see why criminals have the right to enjoy having access to medical, dental and psychological treatment, warm food on the table and to free when there are so many non-criminals that go without. A complex discussion...

David M.
Eva Daniher7 years ago

Thanks for this info

Claudia T.
Claudia tomczak7 years ago

Change the laws Have no rights in prison . Suffer for those end days of his life. Carla O. got twelve years for killing two girls. A young man steeling , breaking / entering /haveing marij. got ten years. Does this make sense??? A child melester gets three years and probation. Does this commpute??? Stop spending money on these lesser crimes and let them pay back what they have done in working, why should we pay for them to be in jail?? Its like were paying for their mistakes. If an offender of any crime, fairly minor does a second crime, them increase the penalty. But let him work it off!! Let him work in mental facilities, hospitals etc. Then we'd have more money for deeds done like rape , petifiles, and murderers. One man got life in prison and do you know when this sentence was pronounced? Believe it or not he raped, and assaulted one hundred and six women??? Can you believe this??. He was sent for sex therapy did maybe a year for some of these cases and got to do all of this over quite a few years!! Any case that damages a person physically should be incarserated. One rape ten to twenty years. Petifiles thirty years or more. etc etc Murder ? Life or death penalty depending on the circumstances. Brutality differs from temporary insanity. Premeditated differs from loss of control. God help us !!!! The numbers are climbing. Maybe if more got involved with Christianity these crimes will decrease. Fear can be a good thing !! Fear of the unknown. Whats after death??

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago


Irma F.
Irma F.7 years ago

ok before i used to tink the same... about not killing this really demented people, but have you ever meet a killer, have you ever seen inocent people die?...
i come from Mexico, the violence got soo crazy that innocent police man, journalist and people who where in the wrong place at the wrong time lost their life, and this killers get only more monstrous, that they send the heads cut off of police man to their families.. Sick..
Makes you change the question...
from: Do they decerve to die?...
to: Do they really decerve to live?!...
Think about it...
Im now an American citizen and if there was an option to vote for the death sentance i will vote for it!!! 100%
No question about it!...
We are paying w out taxes to feed this monster!

FACT- Currently in the United States, 1 in every 31 adult persons is either in jail or prison or on parole or probation. That amounts to 7.3 million Americans and a cost that exceeds $68 billion annually.

If the most damage killers are send to death penalty, the money to not maintain them could be used to rehab other people that have commit minor assaults and there will be space inside jail to actually keep in jail all those monsters that molest children, Put them in jail for 20 years.

so yes Death sentence for this careless people they dont touch their heart to commit horrible deaths, so i dont touch my heart for them i really just dont care about them.

the fact was from this link..

Leia P.
Leia P.7 years ago

i think this is justice

Raymond Quinlan

Although I would want them dead i dont think its right to kill the animals.lock them up forever.pow

Sherri R.
Sherri R.7 years ago

I have mixed feelings because there have been so many instances where a person was wrongly convicted; HOWEVER, in this case there was no question that Hayes was guilty of a horrific crime, with two of the victims being minors. I have to be completely honest in saying if this had happened to my family, I would have absolutely no hesitation in DEMANDING the death penalty.

Susan Weihofen
Susan Weihofen7 years ago

There have been too many cases that have been reversed with new evidence and a lawyer that actually cares to allow a death penalty. And all of you that are so for the death penalty and call yourselves good Christians ask yourselves how would Jesus feel about the death penalty?

Gina H.
Gina H7 years ago

Career criminals spend their time committing crimes knowing that when they get caught they go to the slammer for a "vacation". That means a roof over their head, food, TV, counseling, privileges for "good behavior" in prison... Then when they get out on parole, they begin the whole cycle again. These men have NO intention of reforming because they engage in violent behavior they find exciting until caught and then get taken care of like boys in a boarding school. I have no sympathy for rapists/murderers and statistics show that when released they repeat the behavior often taking it to new levels of violence. Why waste tax payers dollars in housing these monsters when a simple bullet in the head will do after proven guilty? The number of "innocent men convicted" is minimal compared to the number of guilty repeaters let loose upon society again. These jerks only understand that violence works for them and have no respect for the values the rest of us carry. Sure... life long incarceration with NO chance of repeal. Let them be bound and raped every day thereafter so they get to understand there are repercussions for their actions & left in a dark, damp cell in between sessions. If more rapists/murderers knew that they would have to endure the same torture and/or death without parole, then they would be less likely to commit the crimes to begin with. It certainly would stop the monsters from breeding more.