Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Three People, One Crime and Plenty of Pain to Go Around

Covering jury selection last week for the Joshua Komisarjevsky trial was an important reminder to me that Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley and Michaela, weren't the only victims of that nightmarish day in July 2007.

Yes, the three Petit women died indescribably horrific deaths. But the tragic events of that day continue to scar those involved and not just Dr. William Petit, the only member of his family to survive the brutality of that day.

Any doubt that I may have had that the damage which Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes inflicted went beyond Dr. Petit and his family was erased in the time it took me to ride an elevator down six floors at Superior Court in New Haven last Thursday.
Joining me on the elevator ride that day -along with a reporter from another Connecticut newspaper - were Ben and Jude Komisarjevsky, the parents of the accused.

I had seen Ben Komisarjevsky up close once before, shortly after his son was arrested for the murders. I went to what was then the couple's home at 840 North Brooksvale Road to get a comment from them about what their son had done.

Ben Komisarjevsky opened the door just enough so that I could see his face and handed me a written statement that expressed deep sympathy for the Petit family and sorrow for what his son was accused of doing.

The face of the man who greeted me at the door that day haunts me to this very day. The expression on Ben Komisarjevsky's face that day was akin to that of a Nazi concentration camp survivor: Cheeks caved in and pale, eyes that looked as though they had witnessed unspeakable horror.

Last Thursday, Ben Komisarjevsky managed a slight smile as Mary Ellen Godin of the Meriden Record Journal and I kidded he and his wife about getting advice from defense attorney Walter Bansley III. We joked that Bansley had suggested an alternate route out of the courthouse so the Komisarjevskys wouldn't have to face the television cameras that were waiting out on the street.

But the whole time we were talking, Jude Komisarjevsky pressed closer and closer to her husband and the wall of the elevator car. It was as if she wanted to disappear into one or the other.
Once outside, Mrs. Komisarjevksy pulled a shawl overhead, covering her face as she and her husband beat a hasty retreat.

Neither Ben nor Jude Komisarjevksy were in the Petit home the day their son and Hayes brutalized, then killed the three Petit women and ended any sense of normalcy that Bill Petit's life would ever have.

And yet although the two elder Komisarjevsky's haven't been charged in a court of law for any crimes stemming from that day, in a sense, they are on trial everyday they show up to watch attorneys pick the jury that will hear their son's case. Many in the public are quick to pass judgement on their fitness as parents.
But let's be honest: Nobody sets out to raise the kind of young man it took to inflict that kind of horror on other human beings.

Of course, there are those who will argue that at least the Komisarjevskys can visit their son in prison, for as long as he is alive anyway. Bill Petit has nothing left of his family to visit but three headstones.

I had my first chance to talk to Dr. Petit alone earlier the same day that I shared the elevator with the Komisarjevskys.

He had just come back from lunch and was standing in front of a mirror in the sixth floor men's room, using a paper towel to wipe some Russian dressing off the lapel of his sport coat that had fallen off a sandwich he'd had for lunch. We engaged in a little small talk before returning to Courtroom 6A for the afternoon's proceedings.

What struck me about Dr. Petit and that simple encounter was how normal it all seemed. Yet normalcy comes extremely hard for Bill Petit - if it comes at all - since the events of July 2007.

Dr. Petit told us that much the day Hayes was sentenced to die last November. He talked about taking medication for the physical and psychological impacts of the beating he suffered in 2007 and because of the loss of his family.

And yet everyday that he gets out of bed and goes to court or goes out to lunch or does anything that normal folks do, Dr. Petit is a testament to the ability of the human spirit to endure the most unspeakable horrors and carry on. So, for that matter, are Ben and Jude Komisarjevsky.
Our prayers and thoughts ought to be with all three of them as these legal proceedings continue.