Doctor to Revisit Horror of Wife and Children's Murders

Doctor to Revisit Horror of Wife and Children's Murders
From left: Hayley, Michaela and parents Jennifer and Dr. William Petit
John Muldoon/Polaris

09/13/2010 AT 01:15 PM EDT

Three years ago, Dr. William Petit, Jr., was the lone survivor of a brutal home invasion that left his wife and two daughters murdered.

Since then, the Connecticut physician has tried to "think about the good memories," he says, seeking to salvage something from their senseless deaths by starting a foundation to raise money for victims of violence and other causes.

As early as this week, Petit will revisit the horror.

Petit is set to testify in a New Haven courtroom in the trial that began Monday for Steven Hayes, 47, one of two men accused of holding Petit and his family hostage in July 2007 for hours, beating Petit, strangling his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and setting their house on fire.

Petit was left for dead in the basement of their Chesire, Conn., home. When police arrived, the suspects had fled, and the couple’s daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, who had been tied to their beds, were dead from smoke inhalation.

The second defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, 30, will be tried separately next year.

Doing the Right Thing

Petit, who is expected to take the stand early in the week, told reporters last month that his focus during the trial will be on "doing the right thing, testifying to what I know and being the face of my family, since they can't be here to represent themselves."

Still, the prospect of talking about the murder of his family is taking its toll. "You can actually feel the stress level creeping up," he says. "It's very emotional. It conjures up lots of sadness, puts a lot of stress and strain on the family."

Petit has also become a very public advocate for the death penalty in Connecticut and has reacted strongly when Hayes's attorneys have challenged its constitutionality in court.

He also founded the Petit Family Foundation, which has raised more than $1.4 million in the last three years.

"It's very rewarding and satisfying that people care that much about Bill and want to help," says Ron Bucchi, treasurer of the foundation and one of Dr. Petit's closest friends. "It's a testament to him. I think it's a tragedy that has touched everyone somehow. I think it's one of those events that you just say, 'Why?' "

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