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Man sentenced to death for murders

A man has been condemned to death for a night of terror inside a suburban US home where a woman was strangled and her two daughters were tied to their beds and left to die in a petrol-fuelled fire.

Jurors in New Haven Superior Court voted unanimously to send Steven Hayes to death row after deliberating over four days..

The judge, in thanking the jurors for their service, said, "You have been exposed to images of depravity and horror that no human being should have to see."

Authorities said Hayes and co-accused Joshua Komisarjevsky broke into the house, beat Dr William Petit and forced his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, to withdraw money from a bank while the rest of her family remained under hostage at home. Hayes then sexually assaulted and strangled her, authorities said.

Komisarjevsky is charged with sexually assaulting their 11-year-old daughter, Michaela. He has blamed Hayes for escalating the crime.

Michaela and her 17-year-old sister, Hayley, were tied to their beds and had petrol poured on or around them before the men set the house on fire, according to testimony. The girls died of smoke inhalation.

Dr Petit, who survived the ordeal, said the verdict was not about revenge. "Vengeance belongs to the Lord," he said, adding: "This is about justice. We need to have some rules in a civilised society."

Hayes's attorneys had tried to persuade jurors to spare him the death penalty by portraying him as a clumsy, drug-addicted thief who never committed violence until the 2007 home invasion in Cheshire, a wealthy New Haven suburb, with Komisarjevsky. They called Komisarjevsky, the mastermind and said he escalated the violence.

But prosecutors said both men were equally responsible and that the crime cried out for the death penalty, saying the family was tormented for seven hours before being killed.

Komisarjevsky will be tried next year. Prosecutors rejected offers by both men to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences, their attorneys have said.

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