Johanna Petit Chapman had the grim task of identifying the bodies of her nieces, Hayley and Michaela, after the 2007 deadly Cheshire home invasion.
So when she learned Thursday that one of Joshua Komisarjevsky's defense lawyers had described her family's decision to leave court during testimony on the sexual assault and death of Michaela as a "stunt," Petit Chapman bristled.
"I identified Hayley and Michaela's bodies. I didn't feel I could sit through the grisly details of Michaela's autopsy," she said. "I've seen the monster's handiwork firsthand. I don't need to see the grisly details of the autopsy. Clearly, it wasn't a stunt."
Defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan unsuccessfully moved for a mistrial Thursday, arguing that the walkout Wednesday by Dr. William Petit Jr. and a dozen family members and friends would adversely influence the jury.
"They left en masse," Donovan said. "It seems to be that is so prejudicial to my client."
Donovan told Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue that the Petit family members were aware that the state's chief medical examiner would be the first witness after Wednesday's lunch break, and that he would provide disturbing testimony about the crime that left Petit's wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and their two daughters dead.
Donovan also noted that the jurors watched as the family members filed out of court. Donovan asked the judge to prohibit Petit family members from pulling "any stunts like that again."
The judge denied the motion. Blue said that trial spectators are free to come and go from the public courtroom.
Petit Chapman said Thursday that earlier this week, some family members ended up staying in their seats during disturbing testimony about the autopsy performed on Hayley Petit, 17. The family did not realize that the autopsy testimony would be heard at that particular time, she said.
Petit and his family members were not in court Thursday morning when Donovan moved for the mistrial.
They opted again to skip more disturbing testimony, this time from Dr. Susan Williams, a state medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Hawke-Petit. Williams testified Thursday that Hawke-Petit was already dead by the time the fire started in the home. No soot was found in her airways, Williams said.
Williams said Hawke-Petit, 48, was strangled, her larynx fractured in two places. Williams said Hawke-Petit was alive after the first fracture.
Prosecutors showed a photo of Hawke-Petit's larynx on a large movie screen in the courtroom. Jurors appeared to listen intently to her explanations. Komisarjevsky, 31, dressed in a suit and tie and leaning back in his chair, looked up often at the photo.
Komisarjevsky's alleged accomplice, Steven Hayes, admitted to police that he raped and strangled Hawke-Petit. Hayes was convicted of the killings last year and sentenced to death. If convicted, Komisarjevsky also could face the death penalty.
Throughout the testimony, Hawke-Petit's sister, Cindy Hawke-Renn and her parents, the Rev. Richard and Marybelle Hawke, sat in the courtroom gallery.
During cross-examination, Donovan asked Williams if police briefed her before the autopsy about the details of the crime. She said there was a meeting but she could not recall what police told her.
In his tape-recorded statement to police shortly after his arrest on July 23, 2007, Komisarjevsky told detectives that Hayes was "walking around with a stocking, uh, talking about he was going to just strangle them, all three of the women."
Shortly afterward, Komisarjevsky continued, he could "see behind Steve that uh, the mother was uh, laying lifelessly on the floor uh, with her head on the loveseat um, and her pants were down around her ankles."
Komisarjevsky said he knew from his EMT training that she had been strangled and was dead.
Jurors listened to the 90-minute audio statement in court last week. In the statement, Komisarjevsky admitted beating Petit with a baseball bat at the start of the home invasion and later sexually assaulting Michaela while she was tied to her bed.