Judge hears challenge to Conn. death sentence

(AP) - Attorneys for a man condemned to die for a deadly home invasion tried to convince a judge Wednesday that the jury was unduly

NEW HAVEN - (AP) - Attorneys for a man condemned to die for a deadly home invasion tried to convince a judge Wednesday that the jury was unduly swayed by emotion, but the judge said the jurors' reactions were natural given the crime's "unimaginable horror."

Judge Jon Blue heard arguments, but did not immediately rule, on a defense motion challenging the death verdict two weeks ago for Steven Hayes, who was convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters in the 2007 home invasion in Cheshire.

Hayes was convicted of sexually assaulting and strangling the mother, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, after forcing her to withdraw money from a bank. Investigators say Hayes and co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky tied the girls to their beds and poured gasoline on or around them before setting the house on fire, leaving them to die of smoke inhalation.

The girls' father and Hawke-Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit, was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up, but managed to escape to a neighbor's house to get assistance.

Tom Ullmann, Hayes' attorney, cited comments by a juror of having persistent nightmares during the trial, during which they heard gruesome testimony and saw photos of the victims, charred beds, rope, ripped clothing and ransacked rooms.

Blue promised a ruling on the motion, which seeks a new trial or a life sentence, before Hayes' scheduled sentencing on Dec. 2. Blue did reject a defense motion challenging Hayes' assault conviction.

Some jurors met with Petit and his relatives after the verdict and some also appeared on television wearing pins for a family foundation in memory of the victims, Ullmann said.

The attorney called the meeting "somewhat unseemly," but Blue said he was not concerned. The judge repeatedly pressed Ullmann to cite court rulings to bolster his arguments, saying courts do not delve into the mental processes and reasoning of jurors.

Komisarjevsky faces trial next year.

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