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Old 01-20-2010, 10:47 AM   #6
SimplySherri
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Cheshire Slayings: 18 Potential Jurors Excused On Day 1

In First Day Of Jury Selection, No Jurors Selected

NEW HAVEN - From the jury box Tuesday at Superior Court, Wesley Spencer stared at murder suspect Steven Hayes, one of two men charged in the deadly 2007 Cheshire home invasion.

Spencer was among 18 jurors called and excused during the first day of jury selection in Hayes' trial. If convicted, Hayes could face the death penalty for the slayings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11.

Spencer, a North Haven salesman who works on commission, told the judge that a lengthy criminal trial would be a financial hardship. His personal feelings weren't discussed on the witness stand.

"You want to know what I really think?" Spencer, the father of two daughters, said later outside the courtroom. "I'd like to go over there and strangle him myself."

Anger wasn't the only emotion inside the courtroom, where attorneys for hours grilled prospective jurors about their personal lives, their feelings on the death penalty and what they have read and seen in the media about the Cheshire slayings.

A college student broke down in tears on the witness stand when asked about the death penalty.

"It makes me feel uncomfortable," she said, sobbing into her hands.

Many said afterward that they were relieved not to be a part of the case. Most who walked past Hayes who sat at the defense table dressed in ill-fitting black pants and a collared shirt with black and purple stripes did not look at him. Some of those excused said that Hayes looked much thinner than he appeared in the widely circulated, full-faced mug shot taken after his arrest.

William Cossaboom, 54, of Hamden, the first juror to be excused because of a claim of hardship, said that as a father and grandfather, he most likely would have been sympathetic to the Petit family.

"I intended to walk in there with an open mind, though," Cossaboom said.

"It's a horrible case," said David Frank, a self-employed potter. Frank was dismissed because time at the trial would have been time away from making the pottery that he sells to earn a living.

Attorneys will pick 12 jurors, six alternates and two backup alternates in a process expected to last weeks if not months. Testimony in the widely publicized case is not expected to start until September.

Judge Jon C. Blue told jurors that the trial and a subsequent penalty phase could last until mid-December.

Connecticut's individual jury selection system which gives attorneys on both sides ample opportunity to screen for bias has been criticized for being too lengthy. Before Tuesday's hearing and before he took the bench, Blue nodded to a cart that Public Defender Thomas J. Ullmann pulled into the courtroom containing two file boxes full of documents.

"And that's just the first set of questions," Blue joked.

Frank said it was apparent that prospective jurors who gathered Tuesday morning before selection began had an idea that they could be selected for an incredibly difficult case. But he did not hear anyone discussing the case.

"It was silent and nervous there," Frank said.

Erik Becker's body language seemed to say a lot. On the witness stand, he took long, deep sighs and dropped his head while answering questions.

Becker, 32, of Madison, said that when he walked into the courtroom, he immediately recognized Dr. William Petit Jr.

"It's a tragedy on all sides," Becker said. He said he also looked at Hayes.

"I thought, God bless him. I'm sure this is not an indication of the man he wanted to be."

Two dozen friends and family members joined Petit in attendance. He was badly beaten during the attack at his home and suffered serious injuries.

Outside the courtroom, Petit spoke to reporters, saying he was happy that the case was beginning and held out "hope that justice will be served for Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela."

He acknowledged that jury selection was likely to be lengthy.

Forty-five more jurors will be called this morning for the selection process.

Hayes, 46, of Winsted, will be the first of two men charged in the deadly home invasion. Joshua Komisarjevsky, 29, of Cheshire, is scheduled to be tried after Hayes. Copyright 2010, The Hartford Courant
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