HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Enraged over his ex-wife going to police about his harassment and likely arrest, John David Battaglia used a May 2001 visit with their two young daughters to avenge his anger. As their mother helplessly listened on the phone to one of the girls' cries, he fatally shot them both at his Dallas apartment.
Hours later, the former accountant was a nearby tattoo shop getting two large red roses inked on his left arm to commemorate 9-year-old Faith and her 6-year-old Liberty. When he walked outside, it took four officers to subdue and arrest him. A fully loaded revolver was found in his truck.
On Wednesday, the 60-year-old is set for lethal injection. He'd be the 10th inmate executed this year nationally, the sixth in Texas.
"I don't feel like I killed them," Battaglia told The Dallas Morning News in 2014. "I am a little bit in the blank about what happened." He also referred to his slain daughters as his "best little friends" and told the newspaper he had photos of them displayed in his prison cell. He declined to speak with The Associated Press as his execution date neared.
An attorney seeking to represent Battaglia, who contended his court-appointed lawyer abandoned him after the U.S Supreme Court in January refused to review his case, said in an appeal to federal courts that the man is mentally ill. Attorney Gregory Gardner also argued Battaglia was entitled to a reprieve so he could get a fair hearing to determine if he's incompetent for execution.
But available evidence "does not come close" to suggesting Battaglia lacks an understanding that he's about to be executed and why he's set for punishment, the criteria the Supreme Court has established to determine competency for prisoners facing execution, according to Erich Dryden, an assistant Texas attorney general.
"His last-minute appeal amounts to a fishing expedition," Dryden said.
Battaglia's trial attorneys called no witnesses during the guilt-innocence portion of his capital murder trial in 2002, and a Dallas County jury deliberated only 19 minutes before convicting him. During the punishment phase, jurors heard defense testimony that Battaglia's mental illness should convince them a life prison sentence would be appropriate. They did not agree.
"To think a father could just gun down his little girls, it was just unbelievable," Howard Blackmon, the lead prosecutor in the case, recalled last week. "It was such a compelling case for the death penalty."
Evidence showed that at the time of the shootings, Battaglia was on probation for a Christmas 1999 attack on his estranged wife Mary Jean Pearle, the girls' mother. Their divorce was finalized the following August.
Around Easter 2001, he called Pearle, swearing at her and calling her names, a violation of his probation. She reported the incident to his probation officer and Battaglia learned on May 2, 2001, that an arrest warrant had been issued. That evening, Pearle left their daughters with him for a planned dinner.
She soon received a message that one of the girls had called for her. Pearle returned the call and Battaglia put her on speakerphone, telling Faith to ask her mother: "Why do you want Daddy to go to jail?"
Pearle heard the child cry out: "No, Daddy, please don't, don't do it."
Pearle yelled into the phone for the girls to run and heard gunshots, followed by Battaglia telling her: "Merry ... Christmas," the words divided by an obscenity. After hearing more gunfire, Pearle hung up and called 911.
Evidence showed Faith had been shot three times, and Liberty five. A semiautomatic pistol found near the kitchen door was among more than a dozen firearms recovered from Battaglia's apartment.
Testimony at his trial also showed he'd been violent with his first wife, who obtained a protective order that he ignored by stalking her.