Dallas man to die for killing daughters while mom listened on the phone
John David Battaglia told his wife ‘Merry f***ing Christmas’ before shooting their daughters - but says he doesn’t remember it
A former Dallas accountant condemned for fatally shooting his two young daughters while their mother listened helplessly on the phone is looking to the US Supreme Court to spare his life.
John David Battaglia is set for execution on Thursday evening for the May 2001 killings of his nine-year-old daughter Faith, and her six-year-old sister Liberty. Battaglia and his wife had separated and the girls were killed at his Dallas flat during a scheduled visit.
Battaglia’s lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to stop the punishment and review his case, contending Battaglia, 62, was delusional and mentally incompetent for execution,
The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, hours before Battaglia’s scheduled punishment, rejected an appeal that argued a lower court improperly refused his lawyers money to hire an expert to further examine legal claims he is mentally incompetent for execution.
The Supreme Court has ruled that prisoners can be executed if they’re aware the death penalty is to be carried out and have a rational understanding of why they’re facing that punishment.
Lawyers for Battaglia contend that he doesn’t have that understanding and that the state’s highest court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, misapplied the Supreme Court’s guidance when it ruled that Battaglia is competent.
They also argue that a federal judge improperly denied their requests for additional money to hire an expert to collect information about his competency, which has been the focus of prolonged appeals in his case.
State lawyers argued that the Texas courts ensured proper legal standards were followed and that Battaglia had been provided expert help and a court hearing in accordance with Supreme Court precedents.
A state judge and the state appeal court described Battaglia as highly intelligent, competent, not mentally ill and faking mental illness to avoid execution.
Testimony at a hearing showed Battaglia used the prison library to research capital case rulings on mental competence and discussed with his father during a phone call from jail the “chess game” of avoiding execution.
State Judge Robert Burns, who found him competent, said Battaglia’s intelligence and education – he has a master’s degree – shows he is not a “typical inmate” and has the “motive and intellectual capability to maintain a deliberate ploy or ruse to avoid his execution.”
According to prosecutors, Battaglia became enraged that his estranged wife, Mary Jane Pearle, notified police about his harassment and he used the visit with their daughters to act on his anger.
Pearle, who had gone to dinner, returned a call from one of her daughters and heard Faith pleading with her father, who put the call on speakerphone.
“No, daddy, please don’t, don’t do it!” Faith begged.
Pearle yelled into the phone for the children to run, then heard gunshots.
“Merry f***ing Christmas,” Battaglia told Pearle. There were more gunshots. Pearle called 911.
At the time of the shootings, Battaglia was on probation for a Christmas 1999 attack on Pearle. His profanity-laced Christmas greeting to Pearle was an apparent reference to that.
Faith was shot three times, Liberty five. Hours later, Battaglia was arrested outside a tattoo shop where he had two large red roses inked on his left arm to commemorate his daughters. It took four officers to subdue him.
A fully loaded revolver was found in his truck and more than a dozen firearms were recovered from his flat.
Battaglia told The Dallas Morning News in 2014 his daughters were his “best little friends” and that he had photos of them displayed in his prison cell.
“I don’t feel like I killed them,” he said. “I am a little bit in the blank about what happened.”
Battaglia would be the nation’s third prisoner executed this year, all in Texas.