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Witnesses Detail Tense Scenes At Bank, Home As Cheshire Trial Opens

September 13, 2010|By ALAINE GRIFFIN, agriffin@courant.com

NEW HAVEN — — Desperate to prove who she was in an effort to get the money she needed to save her family — but not sure if bank officials believed her story — Jennifer Hawke-Petit calmly told tellers that her captors had taken her driver's license and credit cards.

Then she gestured toward her purse, urging Bank of America branch manager Mary Lyons to look inside.

"She showed me pictures of her daughters in her wallet," Lyons testified in Superior Court Monday.

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"We looked at each other. I knew right then that she was telling the truth and I had to help her," Lyons said through tears. The moment prompted Dr. William Petit Jr., the lone survivor of the deadly home invasion, to lean over, drop his head and look to the floor.

The testimony came during a busy and emotional first day in the trial of Steven Hayes, one of two men charged with killing Hawke-Petit, 48, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, during a July 2007 attack inside the family's Cheshire home.

Today, Petit is expected to take the stand and talk publicly for the first time about what he remembers about the day. He, too, was attacked but escaped and tried to get help.

During the bank encounter, as a teller handed over three stacks of $50 bills totaling $15,000 to Hawke-Petit, Lyons, with the lights off in her office, called police. Lyons testified that she told police that a woman was in the bank saying that her husband and children were being held hostage and tied up in their home and that if she gave them money, her family would not be killed.

"It was amazing how calm she was, but then again maybe she was petrified," Lyons told police, according to a dramatic 911 call played for jurors.

"She seemed quite calm. She seemed to me to be very brave," Lyons said.

Hawke-Petit even gave the bank employees details about her captors, whom she described as "being polite." Lyons said. She said the men were "keeping their faces covered."

Lyons' testimony put Hawke-Petit inside the bank on the morning that police said she was strangled inside her home. Hayes faces capital felony and multiple murder, kidnapping, rape and arson charges. Hawke-Petit's daughters were tied to their beds and the home was set on fire. Hayley and Michaela died of smoke inhalation.

Thomas J. Ullmann, one of Hayes' defense attorneys, did not shy away from the details of the crime in his opening statements Monday, saying Hayes will "concede much, but not all" of what happened on July 23, 2007.

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