CHESHIRE — One of the jurors in the first Cheshire home invasion trial has been forced into bankruptcy because of the financial loss from serving on the jury, according to one of the defense attorneys on the case.
Chief New Haven Public Defender Thomas Ullmann, who spoke in a telephone interview, was also highly critical of state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, who last week said the second defendant in the case should be publicly hanged without a trial.
No jurors were chosen during jury selection today in New Haven Superior Court, according to a source at the courthouse.
Ullmann would not identify the juror who went bankrupt or say if it was one of the seven women or the five men on the jury for Steven Hayes, who was convicted last year and sentenced to death row.
At least half of the individuals excused from jury selection for the second defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, said they could not serve for financial reasons.
The Hayes trial lasted from Sept. 13 to Nov. 8, when the jury recommended execution. People questioned for the Komisarjevsky jury are told to expect the trial to last three months.
Attorneys picked a high school teacher as the first alternate juror on Monday, only to have him return on Tuesday and claim he could not afford to lose his sports coaching stipend because of the trial.
Another reason Judge Jon C. Blue excused him was that he said his friends were telling him Komisarjevsky deserves the death penalty, so he doubted he could be impartial about it.
Ullmann characterized Prague’s comment as "un-American," and added that the fact she did it during jury selection for Komisarjevsky’s trial was especially disturbing.
Referring to Komisarjevsky, Prague told a reporter for the CT News Junkie website: "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."
"It’s like out of the Taliban code of justice," Ullmann said.
Prague made her comment while announcing that she would vote against abolishing the death penalty in Connecticut. Her decision killed chances for abolition this year.
She said Dr. William Petit, husband and father of the Cheshire triple homicide victims, had convinced her repealing the death penalty might lead the jury to spare Komisarjevsky’s life.
Ullmann said Petit also sat behind the speaker’s seat during Judiciary Committee public hearing on the bill to abolish the death penalty so he was constantly in view during the televised hearing.
"Dr. Petit is not the only victim in this state," said Ullmann. Most homicide victims are minorities who were forgotten during the committee’s deliberations, "and their loss is just as great. It makes you sick to see the whole process."
He said Prague could have explained she was changing her vote without making her controversial statement to a reporter.
Defense lawyers for Komisarjevsky criticized Prague’s comment for potentially tainting the jury pool against the defendant, but Blue denied their request for a three-month continuance which the attorneys claimed would allow jurors time to forget what Prague said.
Should Sen. Prague have kept her comments to herself?