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NEW HAVEN - The former girlfriend of convicted killer Joshua Komisarjevsky told a jury Monday that the strict and isolated religious upbringing the two shared left them with little sense of "practical morality" outside the church.

Fran Hodges, who dated Komisarjevsky for two years as a teenager while living in a New Hampshire "discipleship" and attending the Evangelical Bible Church, said the two bonded over their doubts about their religion and their status as outsiders in the small and stringent community.

Despite objections from Komisarjevsky's mother, the couple grew close and even began a sexual relationship in spite of the church, which viewed sex outside of marriage as an abomination.

Hodges described their complicated bond, which involved supporting and encouraging each other's efforts to fall in line with the community's version of morality, but also flouted it.

"I remember us trying to abstain, and sort of support each other in our faith because it was a source of tremendous guilt all the time. Daily, you'd feel like you were engaging with an evil sort of hated yourself for it," she said.

"We were failing all the time, so knowing him was a comfort, because I felt not alone in that."

Komisarjevsky, who was convicted last month of murdering Cheshire woman Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two young daughters during a brutal 2007 home invasion, is hoping to convince a jury to sentence him to life in prison and avoid a trip to death row.

His accomplice, Steven Hayes, was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death last year.

Hodges also said that the church's emphasis on an imminent apocalypse filled her and other children with fear. Elders often cited natural disasters or the "moral degradation" of society as evidence of prophecies in the Book of Revelation, and warned parishioners that they should be prepared to die for their beliefs.

"When I was very young, I was very anxious about the inadequacy of my faith. My parents talked about martyrdom as though it were potentially in our future, so growing up, the prospect of that made me extremely concerned," she testified.

After repeated behavioral issues, Komisarjevsky was eventually expelled from the church - effectively ending his relationship with Hodges.

Hodges has since left the Evangelical Bible Church, and has struggled with alcoholism, anorexia and other problems she said stemmed from having little concept of the secular world or its concepts of morality.

"Everything was built on this apocalyptic worldview. I had absolutely no moral conscience after leaving. I felt like I was damned to hell," she said. "You have no idea what morality looks like in an applicable, culturally acceptable way."

She added that other youths who grew up in the community have experienced problems similar to her own, and recalled three peers who had committed suicide, including "John" - a well-liked youth who apologized to fellow parishioners after revealing he was gay.

"He reacted by apologizing and living in constant cycle of repentance and self-hatred," said Hodges. "I think we all just felt trapped."

When asked by lead defense attorney what ultimately befell "John", Hodges said he "jumped out of a window" before bursting into tears. Judge Jon C. Blue interrupted the questioning and called a brief recess to allow Hodges to compose herself.

Hodges will continue her testimony when court resumes at 2 p.m.

Follow Dan Ivers on Twitter for live updates from the courtroom.


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