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Devil In The Details

I live about 5 miles from the site of one of America’s most grizzly multiple murders in recent times. What has become known as “The Connecticut Home Invasion Murders”, this widely reported case has become the standard by which all other home invasions have since been measured.   

On July 23, 2007, The Petit Family (William and Jennifer Petit, along with their two daughters Michaela and Hayley) were abducted and beaten, the three women were raped, and later murdered by being tied to a bed, doused in gasoline, and set on fire by Steven J. Hayes and Joshua A. Komisarjevsky.  Tried separately, Hayes was found guilty on all 16 charges against him, Komisarjevesky all 17 aginst him. Hayes’  6 capital offenses have earned him the death penalty plus 106 years in prison.

The Komisarjevesky penalty phase is occurring right now. During testimonies of relatives and others trying to see him spared the death penalty, it was revealed that Komisarjevesky was involved in a satanic cult as a teen. This, along with testimony about how he was sexually abused as a child and how he sexually abused his sister, is supposed to paint Komisarjevsky as a “victim” in his own right, and to create an air of sympathy for this multiple murderer that his life might be spared.

As The Associated Press reported:

Armen Abrahamian, who taught Komisarjevsky Sunday school, testified in the sentencing phase of Komisarjevsky’s trial that around 1995, one of Komisarjevsky’s mentors rescued him at a home where a satanic ritual was taking place. The mentor, who has since died, did not know where Komisarjevsky was but felt “led” to find him after praying because he believed Komisarjevsky’s safety was in jeopardy, he said.

Ah yes, the old “satanic ritual” card. As if this story needed any more sadness heaped upon it, here comes a “classic” tale we are all too familiar with in the skeptical movement. For as long as I have been skeptically active, I have heard of stories about satanism being responsible for all sorts of crimes and other occurrences. It is indeed sad when urban mythology finds its way into real acts of horror. 

First of all, satanism is a nebulous phenomenon with a wide range of observances and practices. It could mean anything from playing with a Ouiji board, to drawing pentagrams on the basement floor by candlelight, to actually sacrificing an animal (though never a human, despite rumors to the contrary). Under what pretense of expertise do religious people claim when they accuse others of “satanism?”  I bet if you ask ten different Catholics or Christians you’ll get ten different responses. But one thing is for sure, satanism is a direct “spin-off-series” from the Judeo-Christian religions.  Chalk up yet another contribution to humanity on their behalf! 

Second, a teenager socially experimenting with the “satanic culture” (sorry for all the quotation marks, but when you deal with a pseudo-phenomenon its important to not mistake it with reality) does not mean there is any sort of inherent problem with that child. In almost every instance, kids will do this for mere shock value as an outlet for their natural feelings of rebellion. Very few of these people actually believe in anything having to do with “satanism”, and even fewer actually follow “satanism” later in their life as a closely adhered-to belief system.

Third, there goes the media (again) blindly reporting satanism as if it is a legitimate phenomena. They gather quotes from clergy and other religious people, but do they go get a quote from skeptics about satanism? Of course not. Satanism is a pseudo-phenomena deserving of an appropriate context, both historical and cultural, but don’t expect the media to do this job. This is where being a skeptic pays dividends.

Fourth, and most importantly for the purposes of this blog post, what the hell does dabbling in “satanism” as a kid have to do with the actions of Komisarjevsky? So what if he dabbled in satan, or for that matter any other benign activity?  Maybe he listened to Ronnie James Dio albums, read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, or played Dungeons and Dragons in his prepubescence. Is this really supposed to be some sort of mitigating factor in the crimes he committed? Does it really speak to his frame of mind as he was pouring gasoline on people tied to their bed and setting them on fire? Was he doing this in any way in the name of Satan?

I see absolutely no correlation between this aspect of his past behavior and the crimes he committed back in 2007 just a few miles from my house.  And believe me, when something like this happens within a 5 minute car ride from your house, you can’t help but feel extremely fortunate that it was not you and your family suffering that day. A less skeptical person might believe that a higher power was protecting me and my loved ones that day. I consider it dumb luck.

Carl Sagan was right when he said we (humans everywhere) live in a demon haunted world.  Antiquity and fiction have domain over the majority of people’s hearts and minds, and because of this aspect of the human condition, someone like Komisarjevsky and his history of flirting with satan puts an extra distasteful stain on the memories of innocent victims such as Jennifer, Michaela, and Hayley Petit.

3 comments to Devil In The Details

  • DLC

    There was a report from the FBI about there not having ever been a genuine satanic cult crime, but I can’t remember the report title or author and google search only returns a few thousand hits of nonsense from places like prisonplanet and whale.to. But, in the end it really only matters If his delusions were strong enough to override his knowledge that carrying out his plans was wrong. The advance planning, killing witnesses, attempting to cover up by destroying evidence and attempting to flee the scene all act contrary to that. Further, the time to present a mental disease or defect as a defense was in the trial itself, not in the penalty phase.

  • polomint38

    Evan nice article.

    One question, the phrase, ” I bet if you ask ten different Catholics or Christians you’ll get ten different responses”

    Catholics or Christians implies different things, Catholics are Christians, why the implication they are different and not related?

  • First, @DLC, this may be the report you were thinking of: http://web.archive.org/web/20031025012607/http://www.pointnet.ca/media/igtaorca.pdf although I’m not sure.

    Second, although I too fail to see the relevance here for mitigation, this isn’t unexpected, coming from the Komisarjevsky defense team. Since the conviction and death-sentence of co-defendant Hayes, they’ve ramped up their support for their client in any and every way possible. Theirs is clearly a “shotgun” approach … they’re firing everything they’ve got, regardless of value or relevance, in their effort to paint their client as a wayward saint rather than a vicious sociopath. Their tactics have even included a personal vendetta — in the courtroom as well as in the media — against the massacre’s sole survivor, Dr Petit. (Recently, this particular aspect of their strategy has paid off; even the judge has started reprimanding Dr Petit when prompted to do so by Komisarjevsky’s attorneys.)

    So it almost goes without saying that irrelevancy is going to be thrown up in the course of the death-penalty hearing. Expect more, not less, of it as it goes on. I get why they’re doing it — their client is basically doomed and they know it, so their actions are borne of furious desperation. What I failed to understand is how several weeks of this is supposed to ingratiate their client to the jury. Surely the jurors aren’t naive or stupid enough to be swindled into seeing this as relevant; at least some, if not all, of them must be asking themselves, “Why are these lawyers wasting our time on this Satanism crap?” They can’t be pleased with it.

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