NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A paroled burglar was convicted Tuesday of murdering a woman and her two daughters during a night of terror in which the mother was strangled and the girls were tied to their beds, one doused in gasoline, before the house was set on fire.
Steven Hayes, 47, could be sentenced to death. His attorneys have admitted his involvement and will argue for a life sentence.
Prosecutors said Hayes and another ex-con broke into the family's house in Cheshire in 2007, beat the girls' father with a baseball bat and forced their mother, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, to withdraw money from a bank before she was sexually assaulted and killed. Eleven-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley were tied to their beds, with pillowcases over their heads, before they were killed by the gas-fueled fire, authorities said.
The crime drew comparisons to In Cold Blood, Truman Capote's chilling book about the 1959 murders of a Kansas family, and prompted more Cheshire residents to get guns. It also led to tougher laws for repeat offenders and home invasions, and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell cited the case when she vetoed a bill that would have abolished the death penalty.
The girls' father and the lone survivor, Dr. William Petit, appeared to stifle tears as the verdict was read. His head down, he sucked in his bottom lip.
"There is some relief but my family is still gone," Petit said afterward. "It doesn't bring them back. It doesn't bring back the house that we had."
Hayes showed no emotion as he stood for the verdict, which triggers the trial's second phase, beginning Oct. 18, in which the same jurors will decide if Hayes should be executed.
Co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky faces trial next year and also could be sentenced to death.