NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CBS 2 / AP) — A Cheshire police captain on Wednesday defended the department’s July 2007 decision not to enter a house where they had been told a family was being held hostage.

The home invasion ended with the deaths of a mother and her two daughters, whose bodies were discovered by firefighters after the home was set ablaze.

Capt. Robert Vignola took the stand in the trial of Steven Hayes, who is charged with murder, sexual assault and other crimes in the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela.

A teller and manager at a local bank testified earlier that Hawke-Petit arrived that morning seeking to withdraw $15,000. She told the bank employees that her family was being held by men inside the home. The bank manager called police, who immediately responded to the home.

The surveillance video from the bank was shown to jurors Wednesday, a last look at Hawke-Petit in the desperate last minutes of her life as she withdraws money from a bank and tells the teller it is for men holding her husband and two daughters hostage back at her home.

Seconds after the panicked mother leaves the bank, manager Mary Lyons called 9-1-1.

Lyons: “We have a lady who is in our bank right now, who says that her husband and children are being held at their house.”

“The people are in a car outside the bank. She is getting $15,000 to bring out to them. If the police are told they will kill her children and the husband.

“She says they are being very nice. They have their faces covered. She is petrified. They told her they wouldn’t hurt anybody if she got back there with the money. She believes them.”

Vignola acknowledged that more than a half-hour passed between the call and the time he saw Hayes and co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky, run out of the house, get into the Petits’ car and attempt to flee. They were captured after crashing into a police blockade.

Police then noticed the house had been set on fire.

Vignola testified that there had been no sign of activity in the home and that police were following procedure by setting up a perimeter. If he had known what was going on inside, Vignola testified, “I would have been the first one through that door.”

Firefighters took the stand in the afternoon and described fighting the blaze and finding the three bodies.

Dr. William Petit, who was beaten and tied up in the basement but escaped before the fire was set, sobbed as jurors viewed graphic crime-scene photos. At least one juror also cried while looking at the pictures, which were passed around in the jury box and not displayed on a screen in the courtroom.

The firefighters testified they found Hawke-Petit’s body in the family room, Hayley’s body at the top of the stairs and Michaela’s body on an upstairs bed, her hands tied to the bed post.

The judge ended the session for the day by telling jurors that they had been through the toughest part of the trial and it would be OK to hug each other.

Comments (14)
  1. Luigi Capannelli says:

    Cheshire Police must explain why it took more than half an hour after a bank teller alerted them that the Petit family was being held against their will and the police did absolutely NOTHING. The Cheshire Police Commanding Officer who was on duty that day should be indicted for Negligent homicide and Dr. Petit should take them to the court together with those two gentlemen.

  2. capannello says:

    Cheshire Police must explain why it took more than half an hour after a bank teller alerted them that the Petit family was being held against their will and the police did absolutely NOTHING. The Cheshire Police Commanding Officer who was on duty that day should be indicted for Negligent homicide and Dr. Petit should take them to the court together with those two gentlemen.

  3. kevin says:

    this is what you get with suburban police forces: $100,000 a year traffic agents. anything more than a moving violation and they are lost. courage is just a word in the dictionary to them.

  4. Jiceb says:

    Am deeply saddened to note that the media covering this sad and awful trial is not mentioning enough, if anything at all, about the extreme lack of urgency in this police department. I cannot seem to be able to get past the fact that none of the ‘officers’ dared knock on the door to check on the family. The chief “testified that there had been no sign of activity in the home and that police were following procedure by setting up a perimeter. If he had known what was going on inside, Vignola testified, “I would have been the first one through that door.” How the heck did they expect to know what was going on inside from outside the house. What kind of “sign of activity” did they need to see before taking action. I also very highly doubt these thugs left the house 30 minutes after the call was made from the bank. So whatever time it took, the people you’d expect to be most helpful at such a time were lax, maybe even taking a smoke break. Shame, shame, shame to this police department. I agree with the post above that this family would have had a better chance of survival had the teller called a neighbor or the local deli workers. Deep condolences to the husband and father and the rest of the family.

  5. marc says:

    “to protect and to serve” They did neither. FAIL!!

  6. Flynn says:

    Yes, the police should be held accountable for their failure to act. However, the idea that the defense is using that in some way to reduce the culpability of these criminals is ludicrous.

    THEY made the choice to break into the home. THEY escalated the matter by raping and murdering. THEY took it to another level by setting the home on fire. They could have just as easily tied the family up and ran with the cash.

    If anyone on that Jury for one second even gives the Defense’s argument some thought, it will be an embarrassment.

    I said this in a thread yesterday, but really, the death penalty is too good for these monsters. This is what we need hard labor prisons for. You get sentenced to “Death” which is basically hard labor for 20 hours a day until you collapse. Then they pick you up and make you work some more until you die.

    1. Nick says:

      Hey Flynn, nobody’s blaming the police for KILLING the family. But we are holding the police Responsible for NOT SAVING the family.

      But that’s ok. We also understand you bumbling imbeciles can’t help it.

    2. your mom says:

      newsflash Flynn, your tax dollars DONT PAY the criminals, and it common sense that they shouldnt have done what they did. you cant say the same about the pigs, i mean cops. no i mean pigs.

  7. Dan Te says:

    And you folks sound all “surprised” at hicktown poh-lice not having an IQ above their shoe size. How cute 🙂

  8. Roy says:

    The Captain should have been fired,and every cop involved in this case should be terminated,they had an easy opportunity to end this tragedy,and do to there ineptitude 3 lives were lost………

    1. Terry6206 says:

      Exactly right — 100%.

  9. Terry6206 says:

    This news just makes this story all the more heartbreaking — this heroic mother did not have a chance. Who knew the police would behave this way and not rush to save her children, husband and home? Second-guessing doesn’t help but she would have had a good chance if the neighbor had been called instead. Or the neighborhood deli workers.

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