Thursday, October 01, 2009

Dr. Petit On The Road To Justice


It is not likely that Joshua Komisarjevsky, one of the two alleged murderers in the Pettit case, need fear a cell invasion. But the lawyers for his partner in mayhem, Steven Hayes, who along with Komisarjevsky is accused of invading Dr. William Petit’s home and murdering his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, now are seeking an arrest warrant for Komisarjevsky.

Hayes’ lawyers claim that Komisarjevsky has committed “criminal contempt of court” for having disregarded a judge’s gag order. Principles in the case are under a judge’s instruction not to chat it up before trial for fear the court may not be able to empanel a dispassionate jury. It is supposed by some defense attorneys that if a jury member has read about the events at issue in trial, the juror will be “tainted” and thus unable to render a just verdict. Good judges dispose of the worry by instructing jurors that in their deliberations they may only consider evidence presented at court. Connecticut courts allow voir dire selection, which weeds out jurors who are incompetent or unsuitable.

Komisarjevsky has now become an author, having conspired with New York based writer Brian McDonald in the hasty production of a book that places blame for the murders with his former housebreaking companion Hayes. One hardly expects Komisarjevsky to admit in a book that he murdered one or more of his three defenseless victims on the eve of his own trial for murder.

The Komisarjevsky-McDonald book, “The Middle of the Night: The Shocking True Story of a Family Killed in Cold Blood,” is an account that draws upon three conversations McDonald had with Komisarjevsky in prison, a 200 page account of the Cheshire murders written by Komisarjevsky, numerous letters back and forth between the two, newspaper accounts of the savagery and McDonald’s creative imagination.

The book already has received a sour review from Hayes’ lawyers, Attorneys Thomas J. Ullmann and Patrick J. Culligan, who pronounced it a “fictionalized account masquerading as a bona fide version of the Cheshire tragedies… a scandalous, scurrilous, salacious piece of journalistic trash that offends any notion of compassion and empathy for the victim and his family.” And, don’t you know, the book “has the overwhelming probability of irrevocably affecting the defendant Hayes' ability to receive a fair and impartial trial.”

Lawyers who are not representing the two alleged murderers and arsonists dispute this last charge.

It’s a little soon for this tragedy to turn into a farce, but there you are: the lad’s book is panned in reviews before it is out, and he has a warrant pending against him for contempt of court. The poor dear is doubtless shaking in his shoes.

McDonald – no Truman Capote he – will get his thirty pieces of silver for his slap-dash hack job, a few television interviews – Is Oprah interested? – and some few column inches in the local press. Some enterprising paper may dispatch a reporter to interview Hayes; it’s only fair. He or she will be turned away, now that prison officials have been alerted to book hungry writers.

A dozen years hence, after Connecticut’s Rube Goldberg justice system has finally finished processing the two alleged murderers, Dr. Pettit, the lone survivor of the horrific events portrayed in McDonald’s magnum opus, will have a moment’s peace – or not.

Justice delayed is not always justice denied; sometimes it’s not justice at all.

The family members of Michael Ross’ mass murder spree received justice only after Ross himself threw in the towel on his defense. And even Ross’ decision to forgo future appeals was overridden by Judge Robert Chatigny who, on the eve of Ross’s execution, badgered Ross’ lawyer into allowing one last round of pointless hearings by threatening to begin disbarment proceedings against the defense council if he did not comply with Chatigny’s bullying.

Chatigny later was brought up on a charge that he failed to recuse himself in a case in which he had been directly involved, but he was cleared by a special committee that could have reprimanded him but decided instead 1) that Chatigny did indeed fail to recuse himself for having participated earlier in the Michael Ross case, 2) that the failure to recuse does indeed indicate misconduct, but 3) that a failure to recuse oneself need not lead to a determination of misconduct if the judge “innocently and reasonably” had a memory lapse. The committee pronounced the judge innocent. Chatigny’s hearing was quickly deliberated and over before anyone had a chance to bat an eyelash. If he had murdered more than three people, his case would still be in adjudication.

Michael Lawlor, the state House co-chairmen of the Judiciary Committee, boasted awhile back that mass murderers could not be executed in Connecticut unless, like Ross, they begged that the sentences pronounced upon them by multiple juries should be enacted, a certain indicator that it is time to insist on a fast track adjudication of any future cases involving the death penalty.
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