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Should killer get death penalty?

JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – It’s not easy for Richard Hawke to support the death penalty. The retired Methodist minister knows that his church opposes capital punishment. And he knows what scripture says about forgiveness.But when he looks at a photo of his daughter, Hawke remembers the intruders who strangled her and killed her two daughters last summer in their suburban home.Hawke, 76, and his wife have struggled with the issue, confiding in friends, searching the Bible and praying. He said he told a prosecutor: “These people had no right to continue to live in society.”The United Methodist Church opposes the death penalty, but Hawke said it allows for individual conscience. He described himself as an opponent of capital punishment, with some exceptions for cases involving rape and children.Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her daughters were held hostage for several hours before they were killed. Hawke-Petit’s husband, Dr. William Petit, was beaten but managed to escape the house, which the attackers were accused of setting on fire.The young girls – Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11 – were tied to their beds and died of smoke inhalation. Investigators said gasoline was poured on and around them. Hawke-Petit and one of her daughters were allegedly sexually assaulted.”I don’t think people can imagine the terror that went through the lives of these three women during the hours they were held hostage,” Hawke said of the July 23 attack.”Our kids weren’t just shot,” he added. “They were tortured and terrorized. I couldn’t get past that.”Hawke-Petit, who did not know her assailants, was taken to a bank during the ordeal and forced to withdraw $15,000.Two paroled burglars – Joshua Komisarjevsky, 27, of Cheshire, and Steven Hayes, 44, of Winsted – are awaiting trial in the slayings. If convicted, the men could be executed by lethal injection.The Hawkes said their daughter’s family was generous and socially conscious, often raising money for multiple sclerosis. Hawke-Petit, a nurse, suffered from the disease.”They represented everything that was the opposite of those that took their lives,” Richard Hawke said by telephone from his home in Venice, Fla. “They were the epitome of good, and the others were the epitome of evil.”Jennifer’s mother, Marybelle, said she is opposed to the death penalty but worries that the suspects could eventually be released from prison.”I think the crimes they committed have merited the loss of their lives or lifetime punishment,” she said. “I would always prefer for there to be lifetime punishment, but I don’t have enough faith in the justice system that they would be held to lifetime in prison.”Richard Hawke said he could accept a life sentence, noting that the death penalty would take years to carry out.Hawke-Petit’s church in Cheshire has actively opposed the death penalty, handing out so-called “declarations of life” that members can sign to express their opposition to capital punishment, even if they themselves were slain.The Hawkes believe their daughter picked up a declaration, but they are unsure if she signed it.”No one can positively say they saw her sign that and give it back to anyone,” Richard Hawke said, adding that she may have taken it home. “It’s probably burned up in the fire.”The Hawkes are focusing on fond memories, including visits by their granddaughters to their Florida home. The family enjoyed trips to a wild animal park.”We’re really grateful we had the number of years we had with them,” Richard Hawke said. But, he added: “We will be in a type of prison for the rest of our lives because of the loss of our loved ones.”


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