The crime that hor­ri­fied Dal­las

Ex­e­cu­tion nears for fa­ther who killed his girls for vengeance

The Dallas Morning News - - FRONT PAGE - By SARAH MERVOSH Staff Writer smer­vosh@dal­las­

A Dal­las ac­coun­tant who murdered his two young daugh­ters while their mother lis­tened on the phone is sched­uled for ex­e­cu­tion Wed­nes­day.

Af­ter 14 years on death row, John Battaglia, 60, is sched­uled to die by in­jec­tion shortly af­ter 6 p.m. in the na­tion’s busiest death cham­ber.

Battaglia’s crime hor­ri­fied peo­ple in Dal­las and be­yond, at­tract­ing news cov­er­age — much of it lurid — from around the world.

On the evening of May 2, 2001, the square-jawed for­mer Marine re­peat­edly shot his daugh­ters, 9-year-old Faith and 6-year-old Lib­erty, inside his Deep El­lum loft. He had ar­ranged a call with his ex-wife, who lis­tened on the phone as the older girl begged for mercy.

“No, Daddy! Don’t do it!” Faith pleaded, sec­onds be­fore the phone line crack­led with stac­cato gun­fire.

“I’m sad about it. I’m mad at him. But at the same time, he’s my dad.”

Christie Battaglia, his daugh­ter from his first mar­riage, in a 2014 in­ter­view

A prose­cu­tor later told jurors that it ap­peared the younger girl had been run­ning for the door when she was felled.

Af­ter shoot­ing his daugh­ters, Battaglia headed to a nearby tat­too par­lor to have two red roses etched into his arm — in mem­ory, he said, of his lit­tle girls.

He left a mes­sage on his daugh­ters’ an­swer­ing ma­chine that night. “Good­night, my lit­tle ba­bies,” he said. “I hope you are rest­ing in a dif­fer­ent place. I love you.”

In a prison in­ter­view with The Dal­las Morn­ing News in 2014, Battaglia ap­peared re­morse­less.

He said he was “a lit­tle bit in the blank” about what hap­pened to Faith and Lib­erty: “I don’t feel like I killed them.”

He also said he didn’t worry about be­ing put to death be­cause “this isn’t a per­ma­nent place.”

The murders be­wil­dered many who knew Battaglia. Friends de­scribed the one-time High­land Park res­i­dent as a witty din­ner guest, a trust­wor­thy ac­coun­tant, a de­voted dad who dec­o­rated his Up­town of­fice with his daugh­ters’ crayon draw­ings.

But he also owned a small arse­nal of guns, some il­le­gally. Twice di­vorced, Battaglia had a his­tory of brutish vi­o­lence against women, court records re­vealed. He beat his sec­ond wife one Christ­mas Day; he knocked out his first wife with his fists, break­ing her nose and jaw.

At his cap­i­tal mur­der trial, de­fense psy­chi­a­trists tes­ti­fied that Battaglia suf­fered from bipo­lar disor­der. An adult daugh­ter from his first mar­riage later said he was also di­ag­nosed with nar­cis­sis­tic per­son­al­ity disor­der, char­ac­ter­ized by ma­nip­u­la­tive be­hav­ior, a hy­per­in­flated sense of self­im­por­tance and a lack of em­pa­thy.

A Dal­las County jury took 19 min­utes to con­vict him.

Killing Faith and Lib­erty was an act of vengeance against his sec­ond wife, Mary Jean Pearle, who sought to have him locked up.

Battaglia had been placed on two years’ pro­ba­tion af­ter he was con­victed of hit­ting Pearle. Af­ter their di­vorce, she said, he ha­rassed and in­tim­i­dated her, skipped manda­tory anger-man­age­ment classes and oth­er­wise vi­o­lated his pro­ba­tion.

Battaglia knew he could face prison time on the night he picked up Faith and Lib­erty from High­land Park Vil­lage, where he and Pearle nor­mally ex­changed cus­tody for his reg­u­lar Wed­nes­day night vis­its. He drove them to his loft, put Faith on the phone with her mom and had the child ask, “Why are you try­ing to put Daddy in jail?”

The next sounds Pearle heard were screams and shots.

The mes­sage he left that night on the girls’ an­swer­ing ma­chine in­cluded this lament: “I wish you had noth­ing to do with your mother. She was evil and vi­cious and stupid.”

Af­ter her ex-hus­band’s sen­tenc­ing in 2002, Pearle told him to “burn in hell for­ever.”

“You are one of the most heinous mur­der­ers of mod­ern times,” she said.

She added: “I would like to say the next time you see me is when they put the nee­dle in your arm. ... But I’m not go­ing to waste the time to be there.”

Battaglia’s daugh­ter from his first mar­riage said in 2014 that she was strug­gling to ac­cept her fa­ther’s death sen­tence, even as she mourned the loss of her half sis­ters.

“I’m sad about it. I’m mad at him. But at the same time, he’s my dad,” said Christie Battaglia, who has worked with do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims as a vol­un­teer.

She had no de­sire to wit­ness the ex­e­cu­tion. “I can go watch some­body put a nee­dle in his arm, but I can’t go give him a hug be­fore that hap­pens,” she said.

Af­ter the mur­der of the girls, The Fam­ily Place, a non­profit that as­sists vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, es­tab­lished Faith and Lib­erty’s Place Fam­ily Cen­ter in their mem­ory. The cen­ter pro­vides a safe en­vi­ron­ment for su­per­vised child vis­i­ta­tions by non-cus­to­dial par­ents with a his­tory of abu­sive be­hav­iors.

Battaglia’s ap­pel­late lawyers have ar­gued — so far, to no avail — that he shouldn’t be put to death be­cause of his im- paired men­tal state. The Texas Board of Par­dons and Paroles this week de­nied his re­quest for a re­prieve from his sched­uled ex­e­cu­tion.

The News’ 2014 in­ter­view with Battaglia came as part of a year­long ex­am­i­na­tion of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence homi­cides in North Texas.

Battaglia spoke from death row in what looked like a high­se­cu­rity phone booth. A steel door trapped him on one side, while a thick sheet of glass sep­a­rated him from a re­porter and pho­tog­ra­pher.

He cursed and tapped ag­gres­sively on the glass as he em­pha­sized ev­ery­one he blamed for his con­vic­tion — his ex-wife, the dis­trict at­tor­ney, the trial judge, The News.

He in­sisted that Faith, who played soc­cer and vi­o­lin, and Lib­erty, a bud­ding bal­le­rina, were his “best lit­tle friends,” just the “nicest lit­tle kids” imag­in­able. He said he keeps photos of both girls in his prison cell.

Battaglia said he doesn’t grieve for his daugh­ters be­cause they re­main with him.

“Why would I worry about where they are now?” he asked.

“We’re all here, we’re all gone at the same time. I’m not wor­ried about it.”

File Photo/Tom Fox/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

John Battaglia, on death row for killing daugh­ters Faith and Lib­erty, spoke to a re­porter in 2014. He said the daugh­ters were his “best lit­tle friends,” just the “nicest lit­tle kids” imag­in­able. He said he kept photos of both girls in his prison cell.

Lib­erty, 6, and Faith, 9, were Battaglia’s daugh­ters by his sec­ond wife, Mary Jean Pearle, who had sought to have him locked up.

John Battaglia, in the back of a police car af­ter the killings, was de­scribed by friends as a de­voted dad. Court records de­scribe a his­tory of vi­o­lence against women.



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