By Donna R. Gore, M.A. "LadyJustice"
“Perhaps catastrophe is the natural human environment… and even though we spend a good deal of energy trying to get away from it; we are programmed for survival amid catastrophe.” Germaine Greer
December 5, 2011 marks the first day of jury deliberation in the trial of co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky. It happens to be the 4 year, 5 month mark since Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley – 17 and Michaela – 11 were the victims of the most heinous crime imaginable in Connecticut…and nationally!
Stalking, kidnapping, home invasion, physical assault, restraining, sexual assault and rape, torture, asphyxiation, arson and MURDER- they all occurred in one household in the span of a few hours on a quiet street in Cheshire, Connecticut.
One of the many “bones to pick” with the legal system, is the fact that the jury is not able to see photos of victims or hear victim impact statements during the penalty phase…only during the sentencing phase after they have rendered their decision. However, this was not the case with the defendant! Jennifer’s sister, Cindy Hawke Renn believes, as many others do, that this is a distinctly unfair and does not allow the jury to be educated.
[LJ- There must be a pre-existing judicial rule for this…. Why is it that the defense can attempt to call upon the juries’ sympathies for the defendant, and not have an equal balance for those who are murdered during the penalty phase?]
What a chore…. If a jury member takes their responsibility with all seriousness and keeps to the letter of the law. Here’s what they must decide…
The defense's burden of proof for establishing mitigating factors is less than the burden that the prosecution bears in establishing aggravating factors.
First, the jury will evaluate two statutory mitigating factors — whether Komisarjevsky's "mental capacity was significantly impaired" or his "ability to conform his behavior to the requirements of law was significantly impaired," as well as decide whether Komisarjevsky's role in the killings was minor.
If the jurors find at least one mitigating factor under the statute, the death penalty cannot be imposed.
If no mitigating factors are found, then the jury must decide whether Komisarjevsky committed the murders in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner and whether he created a grave risk of death to another person. These are called aggravating factors.
If jurors do not unanimously agree that an aggravating factor exists, their task is over and Komisarjevsky will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.
If they determine that an aggravating factor exists, the jurors must do so "beyond a reasonable doubt" and proceed to the next step.
The jury will then move on to the 42 additional mitigating factors claimed by the defense.
These factors, which are not covered by statute, focus mostly on Komisarjevsky's background, his mental health, his employment record, his cooperation with police after the slayings, the value of his life to his family and the defense's assertion that he has been a well-behaved, productive prisoner.
If none are found, Komisarjevsky will be sentenced to death.
If the jurors agree unanimously that at least one of these factors exists, they then weigh the aggravating factors against the mitigating factors and determine which prevails.
They can identify different factors, as long as they all agree that one is present.
If they find that aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, Komisarjevsky will be sentenced to death. If not, the sentence is life in prison. Our collective thoughts and prayers are with the Hawke-Petit Family while they wait…while the nation watches the final chapter of this unbearable burden.
“There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” Thornton Wilder
www.donnagore.com Donna is also a Featured Columnist for Here Women Talk.