US death-row inmate hunger-strikes for kosher meals

US death-row inmate hunger-strikes for kosher meals

Murderer of Connecticut family claims ’emotional injury’ for having to choose between following God and sinning to survive

Steven Hayes (photo credit: AP)
Steven Hayes (photo credit: AP)

HARTFORD, Conn. — A Connecticut inmate awaiting execution for his role in the killings of a woman and her two daughters says he is refusing to eat prison food that he believes is not kosher.

Steven Hayes sued the Department of Correction in August, alleging it would not serve him a kosher diet. He filed an amended complaint on November 7, which was made public on Wednesday, detailing what he describes as “extreme weight loss.”

Hayes and another man, Joshua Komisarjevsky, were sentenced to die for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, at the family’s home in Cheshire, Connecticut, after having terrorized them for hours. The victims were tied up, two of them were sexually assaulted and their bodies were found after the home was set on fire. Hawke-Petit’s husband, Dr. William Petit, was severely beaten but survived.

Hayes describes himself in the lawsuit as an Orthodox Jew and says he’s been requesting a kosher diet since May 2013. He says he has suffered “almost two years of emotional injury from having to choose between following God and starving or choosing sin to survive.”

In his handwritten amended complaint, Hayes says he hasn’t eaten any non-kosher food since August 24, and now weighs less than 120 pounds. State prison documents show the 5-foot-7 Hayes weighed 170 pounds in 2007.

The department offers kosher food, but Hayes contends it is contaminated during the preparation in the use of pots, pans, preparation surfaces and appliances that also are used to cook non-kosher food.

He said the department does not have a “reliable Orthodox certification that ‘guarantees’ with certainty that the food and process is kosher.” He writes that his religion requires “strict adherence, not close enough.”

A spokeswoman for the Correction Department did not immediately return phone calls and emails seeking comment. The department declined to comment in August, citing a policy not to discuss ongoing litigation.

Hayes also alleges he has been the subject of other religious discrimination in prison and was placed on a suicide watch for observing a fast during the Yom Kippur holiday last year.

This is not his first lawsuit against the department. In past litigation, none of which has been successful, Hayes has complained about his mental health care, harassment from prison staff and the temperature in his cell.

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