NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A man facing a possible death sentence for killing a woman and her two daughters was involved in a satanic cult as a teen and claimed to hear voices telling him to kill himself, so his family turned to tearful prayers and pastoral mentoring, witnesses testified Thursday.
Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, faces life in prison or the death penalty after being convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters in their Cheshire home in 2007. The girls were tied to their beds, doused in gas and left to die in a fire.
Komisarjevsky's accomplice, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death last year for raping and strangling Hawke-Petit and killing the girls. Komisarjevsky also was convicted of sexually assaulting the 11-year-old girl.
The defense says Komisarjevsky's religious family was opposed to psychological counseling and medications. His attorneys say he was sexually abused by a foster teen as a child.
Armen Abrahamian, who taught Komisarjevsky Sunday school, testified in the sentencing phase of Komisarjevsky's trial that around 1995, one of Komisarjevsky's mentors rescued him at a home where a satanic ritual was taking place. The mentor, who has since died, did not know where Komisarjevsky was but felt "led" to find him after praying because he believed Komisarjevsky's safety was in jeopardy, he said.
Abrahamian said he and others at the church would pray for Komisarjevsky. One time they were praying in a circle and Komisarjevsky's father, Ben, began to cry, he said.
"The tears were coming down pretty rapidly on the floor as we prayed for Josh," he said.
Abrahamian described Komisarjevsky as a troubled teen who wanted to run away.
Komisarjevsky's family sent him to a religious residential program in Vermont after he burned down a vacant gas station as a teen and was briefly sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Eric Perry, a counselor at the Vermont program, testified that in 1996 Komisarjevsky told him in their weekly sessions that he was hearing voices at night telling him to kill himself and seeing objects he believed were related to his previous involvement in a satanic cult. In another incident, he described bomb-making materials confiscated from Komisarjevsky's room, along with a razor blade that he was thinking of using to kill himself.
Perry read a report he wrote at the time saying prayer and assurances that Komisarjevsky was loved by God and the staff seemed to be the only solution to his night terrors. He said he was not expected to give psychological counseling.
Rex Hutto, the family's pastor at the time, described Komisarjevsky as "conflicted."
"I felt and I still feel there was a part of Josh that really wanted to do the right thing," Hutto said. "He wanted to honor God."
Komisarjevsky would do well for a period, then do "something foolish and crash and burn," Hutto said.
Hutto said he visited Komisarjevsky in prison after the Cheshire crime and he appeared "devastated" and "horrified" by it.
Michael Way, who described himself as a pastoral care mentor to Komisarjevsky when the family lived in a religious community in New Hampshire in the mid-1990s, said he did not recommend Komisarjevsky receive psychological treatment.
"I didn't see anything that I perceived as pathological," Way testified. "There was certainly no mental health crisis going on at that point in time."
Komisarjevsky's attorneys played brief videos showing him as a teen working on stages for Shakesperean plays doing lighting and sound work.
A judge ruled earlier Thursday that a hearing will be held to focus on efforts by Komisarjevsky's attorneys to call his 9-year-old daughter to testify.
New Haven Superior Court Judge Jon Blue ruled that the evidentiary hearing will be held Nov. 14 and be closed to the public.
Attorneys for Komisarjevsky want his daughter to testify, possibly by videotape. But an attorney for the girl's guardian filed a motion to quash their subpoena, citing sensitive issues.
The attorney, Raymond Hassett, said he had concerns about the parameters of the girl's testimony. But he said he would leave it up to the court to make any decision after weighing all the facts.