NBC Lectures Father of Murdered Family Over His ‘Controversial’ Support of Death Penalty

In an interview aired on Friday’s NBC Today with Dr. William Petit – the sole survivor of a brutal home invasion in which his wife and two daughters were murdered – correspondent Cynthia McFadden pressed the now-candidate for Connecticut’s state house on his support for the death penalty: “The two men who committed the crime were sentenced to death, but then Connecticut voted to eliminate the death penalty entirely. Dr. Petit was an outspoken critic of the change.”

McFadden detailed the horrific 2007 attack: “Dr. Petit was beaten with a baseball bat and left for dead. His wife was raped and strangled. Michaela and her 17-year-old sister Haley were attacked and tied up. They died when the men set fire to the family's home.” Amazingly, she then wondered why he supported the death penalty for the perpetrators: “You know, your views about the death penalty have been controversial to some people. Some say the best thing is forgiveness, is to say – how do you deal with that part of it?”

Petit stood fast by his principle: “Never forgive evil, you know? Never, never forgive evil. And that's what it's about. And that's what the death penalty is about, is erasing evil.”

Earlier in the exchange, Petit explained his campaign for the state house of representatives: “You know, some people still stop and say, ‘I know where you stand, you're for the death penalty.’ And I say, ‘Well, you know, I'm not really running on the death penalty.’ So what's important to people is their quality of life, the economy, their jobs, their children's futures.”

Here is a full transcript of the August 26 segment:

7:41 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: We’ve got a Today exclusive. Voters in central Connecticut this fall will see a new name on the ballot, Dr. William Petit. He was thrust into the spotlight in 2007 when he was the sole survivor of a home invasion that left his wife and two daughters dead.

MATT LAUER: This morning, Dr. Petit announces a run for state house of representatives in Connecticut, but first he's opening up to NBC's senior legal investigative correspondent Cynthia McFadden in an exclusive interview. Cynthia, good morning.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: Good morning. Well, Dr. Petit lost his family, his home, everything in a horrific and brutal way. The two men who committed the crime were sentenced to death, but then Connecticut voted to eliminate the death penalty entirely. Dr. Petit was an outspoken critic of the change. Now nine years later, he's a husband and father once again, with a new mission in life.

MCFADDEN [TO PETIT]: Was it a big decision to decide to run for office?

WILLIAM PETIT: Yes. You know, it's a commitment.

MCFADDEN: Dr. William Petit is hoping to represent his neighbors in Plainville, Connecticut in the state’s house of representatives. For the last nine years, he's been an outspoken supporter of the death penalty, but he says he stands for so much more.

[TO PETIT] You've gone through a very public tragedy. How has that influenced your thinking about running for office? Has it?

PETIT: You know, it's not the impetus. You know, some people still stop and say, “I know where you stand, you're for the death penalty.” And I say, “Well, you know, I'm not really running on the death penalty.” So what's important to people is their quality of life, the economy, their jobs, their children's futures.

MCFADDEN: He was a happily married doctor, father of two, until that night in July of 2007, when his wife Jennifer and their 11-year-old daughter Michaela were followed home from a grocery store by two men. Dr. Petit was beaten with a baseball bat and left for dead. His wife was raped and strangled. Michaela and her 17-year-old sister Haley were attacked and tied up. They died when the men set fire to the family's home.

[TO PETIT] You know, your views about the death penalty have been controversial to some people. Some say the best thing is forgiveness, is to say – how do you deal with that part of it?

PETIT: Never forgive evil, you know? Never, never forgive evil. And that's what it's about. And that's what the death penalty is about, is erasing evil.

MCFADDEN: How do you get rid of the guilt, the survivor's guilt that has to go along with something like this?

PETIT: I don't think you do. I don't think you do. I think it's just – it’s packaged up and compartmentalized a little bit. It's sort of like on the top shelf in the closet in a small box and occasionally it comes out and you open the box and you have a terrible night or a terrible couple hours or a terrible weekend or whatever the case may be and then you come to grips and you talk to your wife and you talk to your son and you talk to your family and your friends and you wrap it up again and you put it back in the closet knowing that it's probably never going to be gone.

MCFADDEN: Dr. Petit found purpose in helping others. Friends launched the Petit Family Foundation after the murders.

PETIT: It was a very difficult time because they made me the “president” and I basically would be in bed the entire day, get up, come into the meeting, and go back to bed.

MCFADDEN: The foundation has given away more than $2 million to charities in memory of Jennifer, Haley, and Michaela, and Petit got help for the PTSD from which he still suffers.

[TO PETIT]: How does it manifest?

PETIT: I think it’s mostly flashbacks and disrupted sleep. With loss, people talk about closure, but you know, there is no closure.

MCFADDEN: But there are new beginnings. Dr. Petit met Christine when she volunteered at the foundation. They've been married four years. Their son, William, turns three in November.

[TO CHRISTINE PETIT] So this journey you’ve gone on with this man, it must have its ups and downs like most marriages, right?

CHRISTINE PETIT: Yeah, maybe higher ups, higher downs maybe. It's certainly different, more challenging circumstances at times.

MCFADDEN: How do you think about it? Is it a new life? Is it a – how do you think about your wife, Christine, and your son, little Billy?

PETIT: You know, it's new. It's additional. It's different because you never forget what you had. It's part of you. People say how do you go forward? I say, well, you know, your choices are to sort of stay in bed and do nothing or die or go forward.

MCFADDEN: He has chosen to go forward. A really impressive man. Dr. Petit may face an uphill battle in his election. His opponent, the incumbent, has not lost an election in 22 years.

GUTHRIE: Just to see someone have a courage to put a life back together and try to move forward under those circumstances.

LAUER: And be so honest about what he still faces.

MCFADDEN: A hundred percent. It was really moving to be with them.

LAUER: Cynthia, thank you. Appreciate it.

GUTHRIE: Thank you so much.

NB Daily Culture/Society NBC Today Video Cynthia McFadden

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