Criminal Justice

Lawyer Claims Trial Tweets Created Circus Atmosphere in Conn. Triple Murder Case

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A lawyer for a defendant sentenced to death in a Connecticut home invasion and triple murder claims Twitter messages about the trial created a circus atmosphere that affected the verdict.

The allegation, made in court papers, sets out an argument likely to be raised in appeals on behalf of the convicted defendant, Steven Hayes, the New York Times reports. More than 140,000 tweets dealt with trial subjects, including rape and children who were tied to their beds as the house was consumed in an arson fire, according to the defense.

The trial judge rejected the claim that jurors were inflamed by public passion incited by the messages, many of them sent by mainstream reporters covering the trial in the courtroom.

But some appeals judges may take an interest in the argument that there is a need to limit instant courtroom communications, according to Stanford University law professor John Donohue III. “There is a general reason for concern about the impact of the new media” in high-profile trials, Donohue told the Times.

Hayes was sentenced to death in a court hearing Thursday for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, who was raped and strangled, and her two daughters, who died in a fire while strapped to their beds, the New Haven Register reports. A co-defendant has not yet been tried.

“Death for me will be a welcome relief,” Hayes said during the hearing.

The Connecticut judicial system is offering counseling to jurors in Hayes’ trial.

Related coverage: “Microblogging of Conn. Murder Trial Has Some Media-Watchers Atwitter”

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