July 18, 2017 12:53PM
By Mike Savino,
Editor’s note: Part II of a series on the legacy of the Petit home invasion 10 years ago this month.
During debate on the reappointment of Justice Richard Palmer to the Connecticut Supreme Court in March, state Rep. William Petit rose to read a brief statement.
“I rise in opposition to the reconfirmation of Justice Palmer,” Petit said during a March 8 hearing in the state House of Representatives. “I do not believe it is appropriate for judges, especially Supreme Court justices, to legislate and attempt to set policy from the bench. We expect our judges to fairly interpret our laws and not politicize their decisions. I also oppose his confirmation on the basis of his judicial demeanor.”
Palmer’s stance on capital punishment was key in the court’s 4-3 ruling in 2012 ending Connecticut’s use of the death penalty. In his decision, Palmer pointed to legislation in 2012 that barred capital punishment for all future convictions.
The Supreme Court’s ruling abolished the death penalty for those already on death row, including Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, who received the death penalty after they were convicted of raping and murdering Petit’s wife and two daughters during the Cheshire home invasion on July 23, 2007.
That history made Petit, a Republican who now resides in Plainville, a key voice on the matter. But it is also a debate that he has tried to avoid publicly since entering politics in 2016.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Petit’s four-sentence statement during the March 8 debate came after a lot of discussion about how the freshman lawmaker would handle Palmer’s reappointment.
“We went over it for a while and we got to a place where he was able to add to the conversation, because of his experiences, but not have him take center stage because of his experiences,” Klarides said.
Petit declined to comment for this story.
Friends and colleagues said Petit has done well to balance the expectations of the public, most of whom came to know of him only after the horrific 2007 incident.
“I cannot imagine how anyone could have done it any better,” said Bob Picozzi, whose Hotchkiss Ridge home is near where Petit’s family lived in Cheshire.
Chris Gillelyn, another neighbor, said a core group of family and friends formed a network of support for Petit. He was particularly reliant on that support for the duration of the two trials, a time period that didn’t conclude until Komisarjevsky was sentenced to death in January 2012.
“It was probably the most heart-wrenching five years of our lives on a personal basis,” Gillelyn said.
Once the trials were over, she “could see the light come back to his eyes,” Gillelyn added. That happened to be around the same time he met his current wife, Christine.
“That’s when we began to see him be able to become more of a hopeful person and, maybe, more of a present human being,” she said.
Picozzi said the birth of the couple’s son, William III, further helped Petit’s recovery. “He said, ‘I can’t wait to tell little Bill about his big sisters,’” Picozzi said, recalling a conversation he had with Petit.
During this same time period, Petit was a vocal proponent for a “three strikes” law and critical of the death penalty repeal, but he shied away from a run for office. He considered running in 2014 against U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty for the 5th Congressional District, but opted to spend more time with his wife and newborn son.
“I believe it was too soon,” said Helen Bergenty, chairwoman of the Plainville Republican Town Committee. “He wasn’t ready for that.”
When he ran against incumbent and friend Betty Boukus in November, Petit, an endocrinologist, stated early in his campaign that he didn’t want to run as a crime victim, instead focusing on the budget and public health issues.
“He’s very concerned about what’s happening in the state,” Bergenty said.
He has continued that focus since taking office. While Petit has at times talked about improving victims’ access to information or court proceedings, he has largely focused on his stated interests.
“There’s a difference between having it define you and having it be part of your experiences and so he has a lot of interest in those issues, but he ran on the budget,” Klarides said.