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Local News

Judge Begins Hearing Request To Move Trial

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Joshua Komisarjevsky

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ Attorneys for a Connecticut man charged with killing a mother and her two daughters in a home invasion want the trial moved from New Haven, citing a survey that found more people there believe he should be executed.

Attorneys for Joshua Komisarjevsky asked a judge on Wednesday to move the trial to Fairfield County. The judge said he wouldn’t immediately rule.

The defense paid for the telephone survey to bolster its argument.

About two-thirds of respondents in the New Haven area believe Komisarjevsky should be executed, compared with about half in a judicial district in Fairfield County, which includes Stamford and Norwalk. The survey also found a higher percentage in New Haven believes Komisarjevsky is guilty.

Walter Bansley, one of Komisarjevsky’s attorneys, apologized to relatives of the victims but said the defense has an obligation to its client, who faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.

“The issue is, can he get a fair shake in staying alive,” Bansley said.

Bansley cited more than 1,800 articles written about the crime in recent years, coming from places ranging from Connecticut to Moscow. He said the survey found that more than 99 percent of local residents know about the case, a record for high-profile crimes studied by experts.

“If not this case, what case would a court ever grant a motion for a change of venue,” Bansley said.

Authorities say Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, in their Cheshire home in 2007. Dr. William Petit, Hawke-Petit’s husband and the girl’s father, was beaten with a baseball bat but survived.

Hayes was convicted of sexually assaulting and strangling Hawke-Petit. Authorities say the girls were tied to their beds, with gasoline poured on or around them, before the house was set on fire, leading to their deaths from smoke inhalation. Hayes, who also was convicted of killing the girls, was sentenced to death.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky have blamed each other for escalating the crime, but prosecutors say both men were equally responsible. Jury selection for Komisarjevsky’s trial is scheduled to start March 14.

Judge Jon Blue agreed the case has generated substantial media attention, but noted that in the Internet age, news is readily accessible.

“Frankly, we can have the case in New Haven or Stamford or some other distant corner of the country and people would still have access to the news about the case,” Blue said, adding later, “If we could find a district untouched by publicity, then that would be a forceful argument for moving it.”

Blue said that if he decided to deny the request, he could revisit the issue later if it proved too difficult to select a jury.

Prosecutors say extensive media coverage does not prove prejudicial publicity. Prosecutor Gary Nicholson argued that defense attorneys failed to prove the need to move the trial and contended that individual questioning of prospective jurors gives both sides a chance to eliminate biased jurors.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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