National News

Chapel Hill woman wants sister's killer to pay

Posted October 6, 2010 10:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2010 6:57 a.m. EDT

— A Chapel Hill woman has changed her longstanding opposition to the death penalty after the brutal murder of her sister and two nieces in Connecticut.

A jury there found Steven Hayes guilty Tuesday in the 2007 murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters.

Hawke-Petit's sister, Cindy Hawke-Renn, of Chapel Hill, said no punishment is too dire for the man who committed the crimes.

"Sometimes I think the death penalty is too easy," Hawke-Renn said Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Hayes and another ex-con, Joshua Komisarjevsky, broke into the family’s house in Cheshire, beat Dr. William Petit with a baseball bat and forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw money from a bank before Hayes sexually assaulted and strangled her.

Hawke-Renn’s nieces – 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley – were tied to their beds with pillowcases over their heads and doused with gasoline before the house was set ablaze, according to testimony. Michaela was sexually assaulted. The girls died of smoke inhalation.

"I don't think I have ever seen a movie that has been as evil as this," Hawke-Renn said.

She has suffered through the emotional aftermath of the crimes twice – three years ago, when her sister and two nieces were murdered and again during Hayes’s trial.

"I can't imagine any human being can do what he did," she said.

To prove to herself that the nightmare was real, Hawke-Renn said she visited the charred crime scene where her sister lived.

“It felt like you were walking through hell," she said.

Hayes was convicted of 16 counts, including six capital felony charges, three murder charges and two charges of sexually assault. The jurors will start deliberating Oct. 18 whether Hayes should be executed or get life in prison.

Hawke-Renn plans to speak to those jurors before they consider Hayes’s sentence.

"I just wish there was a worse punishment. It doesn't seem like it is bad enough for me,” she said.

Komisarjevsky faces trial next year and also could be sentenced to death.