Sep
27

Cheshire Alert: Komisarjevsky Book Out This Week

On Tuesday, all Hell will break loose in the State of Connecticut. That is when Joshua Komisarjevsky's interviews will be published in a new book. That's the book in which he tells what really happened when a mother and her two daughters were were raped, beaten and set afire in a Cheshire home in July 2007. The man of the house, Dr. William Petit, was beaten with a baseball bat and left for dead. The book hits the stands this week.

Komisarjevsky, 29, is the youthful co-defendant among the two men accused of the triple homicides. His co-defendant Steven Hayes, 46, apparently played no role in producing the new book.

The real author is a fellow named Brian McDonald who scored three interviews with Mr. Komisarjevsky in a Connecticut prison before prison officials woke up and realized what was going on. McDonald claims everyone, including the defense team and prison officials, knew what was going on. I doubt it.

In the Middle of the Night: The Shocking Story of a Family Killed in Cold Blood, St. Martin's Press, is a mass market title, selling for $6.99. The copy writer for the book obviously hopes that readers will associate this work with Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. I've never read McDonald, although I find it hard to believe he writes as well as did Capote; few do or can.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Komisarjevsky lays blame for most of the wet work at the feet of his co-defendant. According to press reports, Mr. Komisarjevsky has already given police a 75-page statement laying blame on the older man. But details of that statement have been kept from public view, presumably to avoid inflaming public passion.

I am told by someone familiar with the book that it contains accounts of shocking violence that have thus far been kept from public view. The work is sure to inflame an already agitated and uneasy jury pool in Connecticut, where the two men await trial. Mr. Hayes is set for trial in January 2010; Mr. Komisarjevsky will be tried one year later.

I live one town over from where the slaughter took place. In the months that followed, you could almost see the fear in the air. Every bump in the night was a cause for alarm. There was anger everywhere: I spoke about the case at a local college and then reported threats I received the next day for standing up for the men's right to a fair trial to federal law enforcement. Things are only a touch calmer today. I suspect by Wednesday evening, public passion will once again be red hot.

I know the defense lawyers in these cases. There is no way they consented to Mr. Komisarjevsky's speaking to the press. By dint of these interviews, McDonald becomes one of the state's star witnesses. "Tell me, sir. What else did Mr. Komisarjevsky say?" the prosecutor will intone. And McDonald will tell all, thus boosting book sales yet more. Imagine Dominic Dunne on the stand.

How did the Department of Corrections let this happen? Mr. Hayes and Mr. Komisarjevsky are two of the most heavily guarded inmates in the state. A member of the public doesn't just sign up for a quick visit. Expect the defense to make a motion to find that McDonald was in the prison with the consent of the state, and then to suppress Mr. Komisarjevsky's statements. There is a cold logic to this position. The same state that prosecutes is the same state that holds the keys to the prison doors. It should not do for the prosecution to throw up its hands and say, "Oh, me; oh, my, I didn't know."

Publication of the book just months before the first trial in this case raises an interesting issue. What to do if a fair and impartial jury simply cannot be found?

New Haven Public Defender Thomas Ullman leads the defense team for Mr. Hayes. Mr. Ullman is a perfectionist at jury selection, routinely questioning each juror for an hour or more in a non-capital case. Jury selection alone in Mr. Hayes' case was already projected to last four to six months; once McDonald's book hits the stands I say double the estimate.

Suppose after ten or so months of jury selection a group of fair and impartial jurors just cannot be found. Suppose that this shocking case, a case that has transformed the name of a sleepy bedroom community into a national synonym for terror, so unnerves a jury pool that 12 men and women is more than the state can produce? Then what? Will the state then simply permit these men to plead to life without possibility of parole? The men are said to be willing to enter such pleas. Only vengeance and hysteria demands a trial and more blood spilled.

Of course, odds are a jury can be found. High-profile cases touch the imagination of all with the leisure and inclination to observe. Many folks, however, lead lives of such quiet desperation they have time for no one's sorrows but their own.

Whatever the outcome, these new book promises to re-ignite a flame and then to douse it with gasoline. The folks at the Department of Correction are to blame for this travesty. Just how do you hold two men in super-secure confinement and then wink when a reporter saunters in for a few questions?
Comments (2)
Posted on September 27, 2009 at 10:33 pm by Norm Pattis
We have the most inefficient voir dire system in t...
We have the most inefficient voir dire system in the nation. Each potential juror is questioned outside the presence of the others. It often takes longer to pick a jury than it does to present the evidence in a case.

Posted on September 27, 2009 at 9:38 pm by Anonymous
You write, Mr. Ullman is a perfectionist at jury s...
You write, Mr. Ullman is a perfectionist at jury selection, routinely questioning each juror for an hour or more in a non-capital case . . .

If this is true, you need a new batch of trial judges.
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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
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