Komisarjevsky Penalty Phase

Veronica Maciel

Joshua Komisarjevsky was sentenced to death in October for 13 counts of murder and kidnapping for the 2007 Cheshire home invasion. Recently, the penalty phase for his case began. His mother, sister, father, and nine-year old daughter testified in the penalty phase. A few psychological health experts also testified.

Those who testified were not his biological family; he was adopted. Jude Komisarjevsky, his mother, testified that as a teenager Joshua was very troubled; she believed the reason for his misbehavior was the death of his beloved grandfather. She told the jurors that Joshua used to go to his grandfather’s bedside and read to him every day. One day his father decided to get him away from that sadness and brought him to a soccer game; his grandfather died that day. He blamed himself for the death, and the guilt grew even worse when family members yelled at him for being at a game instead of at his grandfather’s bedside. He became a delinquent and got caught setting a fire in a boarded-up gas station; he would also run away on a daily basis. In 1995, Joshua ran away one night, and his parents called the police. When the officers returned with Komisarjevsky, his mother said he looked like a different person: “There was tremendous pain in his expression and a cocky attitude in his eyes. They were absolutely dead.”

His father, Benedict Komisarjevsky, testified that the state should have had more responsibility in bringing up Joshua, even though the Komisarjevsky’s adopted Joshua when he was only 16 months old. The New Haven Register says his exact words were, “It was indicated to us that I could’ve provided a psychologist,” Komisarjevsky replied. “If we’d had some guidance from the state, we could’ve gone much farther than we did.” He said this in response to the question, “Do you feel you let your son down?”

According to CBS News, Komisarjevsky’s sister, whose name has been withheld, testified that he sexually abused her as a child, but that he wasn’t a violent person and wouldn’t intentionally kill. His sister said the abuse started when she was around seven years old, and happened “quite often” until it stopped when she was nine or ten. Her and her aunt testified that Komisarjevsky didn’t intend to kill anyone. They told the jurors that he had won custody of his daughter against the child’s drug-addicted mother.

He told the defense he did not want his daughter to defend “one of the most hated people in the world.” However, she did; Komisarjevsky’s nine year old daughter testified. She was recorded speaking with a child welfare expert, Caroline Long Burry. The whole video was 50 minutes long, but jurors only needed to see 20 minutes. The other 30 minutes consisted of the child laughing, playing with toys, and talking of things not pertaining to the case. In the video, it was established that the child did not call her father, “Dad” or anything of the sort. Instead, she called him “Josh.” Even though her father gained custody of her over her mother, he had to go to jail for nighttime burglaries. Therefore, her current guardians were established to be her maternal grandparents. They told her not to speak of her father. All the little girl knew was that her father was in jail for “something he had done at work,” as she said in her testimonial video.

The first time the jurors heard that the Komisarjevsky family has a history of psychological problems was during the penalty phase. According to The New Haven Register, Dr. Richard G. Dudley, one psychiatrist that testified, said, “In (Komisarjevsky’s) biological family, there was a history of mental illness,” he continued on to say that that included, “mood disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse.”

Defense attorney Walter Bansley proceeds to ask him if he believed Joshua Komisarjevsky suffered from a mood disorder, and Dr. Dudley replied, “Yes, I do.” The doctor then went on to tell the jury how he believed that Komisarjevsky has had the mood disorder almost his entire life. Dr. Dudley stated that the disorder started around age nine or ten and proceeded to get worse with years.  Evidence of more severe highs and lows were apparent in Komisarjevsky’s life as he got older. As a matter of fact, the doctor said, changes in his mood have been very clear during the 50 hours they spent together for interviews.

He continued on to repeat to jurors how Joshua “never really received psychological treatment at all,” because of his family’s religious beliefs. That had been the only item in the psychiatrists testimony that been presented in earlier phases of the trial.

The defense wanted to make another change in the court during the penalty phase of this trial. He believed it would be good for the defendant and his lawyers to sit closest to the jury, which is where the prosecution normally would sit. The defense believed Komisarjevsky has redeeming qualities and should be spared the death penalty. The prosecution hoped the jurors kept their first decision based on the facts from the first phase of the trial.

The jurors now have all the information needed to make a final decision on whether Joshua Komisarjevsky should face the death penalty or not. His actions have told them he should, but the defense showed many people who were willing to testify that he is an overall good person and didn’t intentionally kill anyone.