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State senator's comments could delay murder trial

Hartford The latest call by state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, to employ unorthodox punishment for the second alleged killer in the Cheshire home invasion case prompted a strong rebuke Thursday from defense attorneys, who asked the judge to delay the trial because of her.

"Her public comments were clearly reckless and undignified for an individual who is a member of the Connecticut legislature," Walter Bansley III said in a written statement. Bansley represents Joshua Komisarjevsky, charged in the 2007 case in which three members of the Petit family died. In addition, Jennifer Hawke-Petit was raped, and one of her young daughters was sexually assaulted.

The controversy concerned published remarks that Prague, the veteran senator, made Wednesday to a news reporter. In explaining her decision to not support a repeal this year of Connecticut's death penalty, Prague suggested just what should happen to Komisarjevsky.

"They should bypass the trial and take that second animal and hang him by his penis from a tree out in the middle of Main Street," Prague told the Internet newspaper CT News Junkie.

The comment was soon picked up by other news sites and repackaged with large headlines.

In New Haven Superior Court on Thursday, Komisarjevsky's defense attorney sought a three-month delay in the trial, scheduled to begin in September, based on concerns that Prague's widely reported remarks could contaminate the jury selection process.

Judge Jon Blue said he would consider the request, expected to be filed Monday. Lawyers in the case have already chosen 12 jurors but have yet to select alternates and substitutes.

"It is outrageous that an elected official of the senator's stature would publicly advocate for public torture and attempt to subvert the judicial process with such sensational remarks," Bansley said in his written statement.

Prague's comments raised eyebrows and even laughter from those at the Capitol, where she has a reputation for outspokenness. At least one lawmaker recalled that Prague once called for a double hanging of both Cheshire defendants on a live radio show.

In October, during a campaign season debate on WICH-AM 1310 of Norwich, Prague and her Republican opponent, Sean Sullivan, were guests on the Stu Bryer show. The topic being discussed was capital punishment and the Cheshire case.

"I think those two people in the Petit case, Hayes and Komisarjevsky, should be hung by their penises from a rope and let them suffer, that's how much I despise them," Prague said, according to a recording.

Talk of the newsroom

"It was probably one of our best interviews of the year," recalled WICH reporter Joe Tasca. "It was the talk of our newsroom for a good solid week."

Steven Hayes was sentenced to death last year for the Petit family triple homicide. Prague, who is philosophically opposed to the death penalty, reversed her position on a death penalty repeal bill after an emotional meeting with Dr. William Petit, the lone survivor of the home invasion.

Prague said Thursday that despite the defense attorneys' objections, she has no regrets for suggesting a sentence for Komisarjevsky.

"No, I do not take back what I said because I think this man is a monster," she said, passing through the corridors of the Capitol. "And those defense lawyers, they ought to be ashamed of themselves."

Todd Fernow, a law professor and director of the Criminal Law Clinic at the University of Connecticut School of Law, said there is merit to the defense's concerns that Prague's remarks could contribute to an unfair trial.

"Can you imagine anything more likely to poison the jury pool than a high-profile person, with media access, who's a leader in the state of Connecticut, who's well-known, comes out with a statement like this in the middle of jury selection?" Fernow said.

Prague said the shame lies with the defense attorneys who are trying to use her remarks for their own benefit.

"This isn't the first time they've used ridiculous things to try and stall a trial," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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