For the New England family, it was just another July day in 2007 as Jennifer Petit and her daughters, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, went shopping at stores in their community, Cheshire, Connecticut. Jennifer was married to Dr. William Petit, a prominent endocrinologist and medical researcher who enjoyed gardening in his spare time.
The family represented the best of civilized society, donating their time and money to worthy causes and always ready to lend a hand to those in need. But even in the most cultured and genteel landscapes, savages are on the prowl. The Petits had no reason to assume that they were being watched and followed by two-legged creatures with murder on their minds.
As they drove their Mercedes out of the parking area and headed for home, they never bothered to check the rearview mirror. If they had, they might have noticed that they were being followed by Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, a couple of ex-cons with a laundry list of arrests and convictions. Why those two creatures were still on the loose is not too difficult to imagine in a justice system that takes several years to bring a case to trial, even one as open and shut as this one.
Like vultures circling over their next meal, Hayes and Komisarjevsky watched the three female members of the Petit family until they saw where they lived. Then, like the skulking animals they are, they broke into the home in the middle of the night and began a campaign of torture, rape, and murder. Dr. Petit was bludgeoned into unconsciousness with a baseball bat while his wife and daughters were subjected to an unimaginable ordeal. That morning, the 48-year-old mom was driven to a bank and forced to withdraw $15,000 in ransom money, while her two daughters lay bound to their beds in terror and her husband lay beaten and bloodied on the floor of their basement.
I can only suppose that Mrs. Petit believed she could save her family if she complied with the demand and returned home with the monster waiting in a car outside the bank. However, before she left with the money, she related her circumstances to the teller, who called the police. Mrs. Petit could have saved herself by staying in the bank until help arrived, but she was more concerned for the lives of her family than for her own. Bravely, she got back in the car and was driven home, where she endured rape and strangulation by Hayes.
Before the police arrived and set up positions outside the home, the house was set on fire by the murderous duo. When they became aware that the place was surrounded, they jumped in the family's minivan and rammed the vehicle barricade. Seconds later, they were subdued and arrested. The two young girls, bound to their beds and conscious, were consumed by the flames. Later, it was determined that the 12-year-old had been raped by Komisarjevsky before being doused with gasoline and set afire. Dr. Petit, his blood gushing from head wounds, miraculously survived by crawling over to a neighbor's house.
Keep in mind that the subhuman creatures who committed these horrible acts were caught at the scene, yet it took three years to have a trial, a guilty verdict, and a death penalty. And that was just for Hayes; the other Neanderthal will be tried next year. Furthermore, there was a delay in the punishment phase because some people are squeamish about capital punishment. It wouldn't surprise me to know that the Petit family had been squeamish about it, too, but that was before they found themselves face-to-face with cold-blooded savagery. Dr. Petit lived through it and made it clear that these cretins deserve to die.
Some say it's a cry for revenge. Well, what's wrong with that? Perhaps, as a society, we need to scream bitterly for the satisfaction of revenge, if only to let the word go forth that convicted murderers will face an angry and implacable group of righteous citizens who will give them as much mercy as they gave their victims. After what was done to that helpless family during what must have seemed like an eternity of torture and morally repulsive indignities, these murderers should feel lucky to be executed quickly.
In a country less constrained by inhibitions about punishment, these monsters would be begging for the relief of death rather than contemplating the span of life. The vermin who killed these innocent people have already lived too long, and other predators are out there watching the long delays, soft treatment, and permissive attitudes -- and they're learning that murder is not really taken that seriously, so why not take a chance? Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. E-mail Bob.