The jury that recently convicted Steven Hayes of the grisly home invasion murders of a Connecticut family is being offered therapy after months of listening to graphic testimony and viewing gruesome crime scene evidence that included photographs charred bodies and autopsy reports.
The experience left many of them scarred, so much so that the state of Connecticut did something they’ve never done before.
Jurors in the two-month long Cheshire, Conn. home invasion trial were offered counseling services from Connecticut’s Judicial Branch following sentencing in the brutal case.
The state invited jurors back to the courthouse for a debriefing by a therapist, because the case involved multiple stress factors, such as multiple victims including children, sexual assault, graphic evidence and – as a capital case – the responsibility of deciding whether a defendant should live or die.
Only a handful of states offer this service to jurors.
The Petit family was tortured for hours in their home in Cheshire, Conn. in 2007 before the girls – Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11 – were tied to their beds with pillowcases over their heads, doused with gasoline and left to die as the house was set on fire. Jennifer Hawke-Petit, the girls’ mother, was raped and murdered by Steven Hayes. Dr. William Petit, their father, escaped after being beaten and tied up in the basement of the house.
The jury convicted Steven Hayes of murder and other crimes and sentenced him to death by lethal injection. Joshua Komisarjevsky, Hayes’ alleged accomplice, faces trial next year for his alleged involvement.
The debriefing, which was apparently the first of its kind in Connecticut, was recommended by the judge, prosecutors, and defense attorneys who thought it could help jurors process the ordeal and eliminate the risk of jurors experiencing post-traumatic stress.
Legal experts say such assistance can be invaluable for those picked at random and thrust into emotionally trying murder cases, and the state is already considering expanding such services.
“We know it’s a relatively small amount of jurors that will have a strong reaction,” Greg Hurley of the National Center for State Courts said. “For those jurors that need them, these programs do seem to work and help.”
One of the jurors, Maico Cardona, says he was not mentally prepared for the trial or the images he was going to see, and as a result he has nightmares about the little girl tied to her bed, burning up in the house fire.
Jurors were shown autopsy pictures of the victims, as well as photos of the girls’ charred beds, rope, ripped clothing and ransacked rooms.
Nine of the 12 jurors attended the session Nov. 10, two days after handing down the death sentence.
It’s unfortunate that this service is rare because ANYONE who serves on a jury to try this kind of crime absolutely NEEDS counseling and should not have to suffer trauma for doing their civic duty.