The crime that horrified Dallas
Execution nears for father who killed his girls for vengeance
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.”
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.