Calls detail how Conn. police reacted in deadly 2007 home invasion

The call provides the first public indication that police tried to prevent suspects from returning to the home

By Dave Altimari
The Hartford Courant

CHESHIRE, Conn. — Previously undisclosed information in the 2007 Cheshire home invasion case reveals police took steps to intercept the vehicle in which Jennifer Hawke-Petit had been driven to a local bank before she and her daughters were killed, according to filings by lawyers for convicted killer Joshua Komisarjevsky.

The filings, obtained by The Courant, show an officer was within blocks of the bank on the morning of July 23, when Komisarjevsky's partner in the crime, Steven Hayes, drove Jennifer Hawke-Petit to the bank to withdraw money.

The call provides the first public indication that Cheshire police tried to prevent Hayes from returning to the Petit home, where Komisarjevsky was holding Hawke-Petit's daughters, Hayley and Mikaela Petit, captive.

When Hayes and Hawke-Petit returned from the bank, Hayes raped and strangled the mother, then along with Komisarjevsky set the house on fire, killing the daughters. Dr. William Petit was beaten but escaped. Hayes and Komisarjevsky were both convicted of murder.

The call is one of several that defense lawyers say was never released by Cheshire police. The Courant first revealed the existence of missing calls related to the home invasion in 2013. The calls form the basis of Komisarjevsky's request for a new trial. The Courant has requested copies of all the calls found on the missing tapes. They have been turned over to prosecutors and are being considered evidence for a possible court hearing.

The document indicates that the call to Sgt. Chris Cote occurred at about 9:25 a.m. or slightly more than one minute after Hawke-Petit exited the Bank of America with $15,000 cash and entered the Pacifica being driven by Hayes.

Komisarjevsky's attorneys are arguing that police withheld evidence - recorded phone calls that came into the dispatch center from either a private line or cellphones.

The motion claims that dispatcher Donald Miller and officer Robert Regan called Cote on his cellphone at 9:25:15. Cote is told that Hawke-Petit had "just left the bank, possibly with her captor, in a Chrysler Pacifica." The call indicated that the vehicle was headed out the plaza where the bank is located "toward Sorghum Mill Road," the street on which the Petits lived.

The motion indicates Cote is instructed to "head down toward that area and see if we can intercept this car."

Cote, the document indicates, responded that he was on Maple Avenue – the street that runs behind the plaza - and that "either he was about to turn onto West Main Street or that 'they' turned onto West Main Street." Maple Avenue intersects with West Main Street at the corner of the shopping plaza where the bank is located.

It is unclear if "they" means Hayes and the Pacifica. The motion does not indicate whether Cote tried to intercept the vehicle or whether he saw the SUV.

Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe said that all of the information from the missing tapes has been turned over to New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington for review. Dryfe said he couldn't comment on the specific phone call to Cote or what he may have done afterward.

Cote is no longer a Cheshire police officer. He was at the scene when Hayes and Komisarjevsky tried to flee. His cruiser was one of the vehicles used to set up a road block at the end of Sorghum Mill Road.

The initial call to all officers to be on the lookout for the Chevy Pacifica was made at 9:26:08. The motion states "the only logical reason why Dispatcher Donald Miller contacted Sgt. Cote before the broadcast to all units is that he knew of Sgt. Cote's close proximity to the Bank of America."

Some of the missing calls showed that police told SWAT team members not to report, informed one of the department's hostage negotiators not to go to the scene and initially might have doubted the veracity of Hawke-Petit's statement to a bank employee that her family was being held.

Last September, Dryfe announced that they had discovered discs in a town hall vault that appeared to have more calls from the day of the Petit murders that had never been heard before. Those tapes were turned over to prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Dryfe said the CDs that were found in Town Hall appear to be backups. When Cheshire officials were asked in 2013 about the existence of recordings that were not handed over to the defense and prosecution, they responded that the tapes had been destroyed in a lightning strike in 2010 and were no longer available.

It is unclear if the call to Cote was on the lost tapes but the new motion makes it clear that prosecutors agreed the call to Cote was never turned over to defense attorneys.

In testimony at Hayes's pre-trial hearing, a captain said the Pacifica nearly hit Cote when Hayes and Komisarjevsky tried to flee the house after setting it on fire. The Pacifica then crashed into a roadblock of patrol cars set up down the road, and police were able to arrest the pair.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes were both convicted and sentenced to death.

The newest motion is asking that Komisarjevsky's conviction be overturned and a new trial held because evidence was withheld. The parties held a status conference with Judge Jon Blue earlier this week but no date has been set for a hearing on the evidence.

Komisarjevsky and Hayes broke into the Petit's home early on July 23 and hit William Petit in the head with a baseball bat before tying him up in the basement. They then tied the three women to their beds before Hayes drove Jennifer Hawke-Petit to the bank.

The bank manager called 911 at 9:21:28 to report that Hawke-Petit told her that her family was being held hostage. The bank manager called police from her office as she watched Jennifer leave the bank and get into the Pacifica.

Police estimate that Hayes left the bank at about 9:24. The call to Cote was made about a minute later. Another officer was on Higgins Road, not far from the Petit home, but was told not to approach the house, records indicate.

Copyright 2015 The Hartford Courant

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