Jewish Death Row Inmate Hunger Striking to Protest Lack of Kosher Food

Connecticut prisoner awaiting execution for his role in the murder of a woman and her two daughters says he has suffered 'from having to choose between following God and starving.'

A view of the inside of an empty prison cell.
Dreamstime

A Connecticut inmate awaiting execution for his role in the killings of a woman and her two daughters during a violent home invasion says he is refusing to eat prison food that he believes is not kosher.

An undated inmate file photo of Steven Hayes.
AP Photo/Connecticut Department of Correction

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. 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.

Karen Martucci, a spokeswoman for the Correction Department, said Hayes has denied to prison officials that he is on a hunger strike. She said she could not comment on the lawsuit, but she said inmates with religious issues are offered what is known as "common fare" meals which "meet all nutritional requirements and accommodate recognized religious dietary restrictions."

Hayes contends the kosher food brought into the prison is contaminated during the preparation in the use of pots, pans, preparation surfaces and appliances that also are used to cook non-kosher food.