Pursuant to a court order by 363rd Judicial District Court of Dallas County, John David Battaglia is scheduled for execution after 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 1, 2018.
In 2002, Battaglia was convicted and sentenced to death in Texas state court for the brutal murders of his two daughters, Mary Faith and Liberty, aged nine and six years old, respectively. This conviction and sentence was affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2005. Below is a summary of the evidence.
FACTS OF THE CRIME
John David Battaglia was convicted and sentenced to death in Texas state court for the brutal murders of his two daughters Mary Faith and Liberty, aged nine and six years old, respectively. The evidence presented at trial is as follows.
Mary Jean Pearl was married to Battaglia for nine years, from 1991 to 2000. They had two daughters, Mary Faith, who was born in January 1992, and Liberty, who was born in January 1995. Throughout their marriage, Battaglia was verbally abusive toward Ms. Pearl, and she filed for divorce when she became afraid that Battaglia would be physically violent. On Christmas morning 1999, before the divorce was final but during the couple’s separation, Battaglia went to Ms. Pearl’s house to pick up the girls for church. Battaglia became angry at Ms. Pearl and attacked and beat her in front of the children. As a result of that incident, Battaglia was charged with assault and placed on probation.
Battaglia’s and Ms. Pearl’s divorce was final in August 2000. An Agreed Protective Order was issued at that time which prohibited Battaglia from committing family violence against Ms. Pearl or their daughters, and from stalking, threatening, or harassing them. The order also prohibited Battaglia from possessing a firearm.
Around Easter 2001, Ms. Pearl received a phone message from Battaglia in which he angrily swore at her and called her names. She reported the call to Battaglia’s probation officer, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Battaglia learned that his case was being considered for a probation revocation and on Wednesday, May 2, 2001, he found out that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. He was assured by a police officer that the warrant would not be executed in front of his children and that he could make arrangements with his lawyer to peacefully turn himself in.
Battaglia had plans to have dinner with his daughters that evening. While making plans on the phone about where to eat, Battaglia told the girls that he was not very hungry because he might be arrested that night and would not see them again for a year or more. Ms. Pearl dropped the girls off with Battaglia at the agreed meeting place and then went to a friend’s house. When she arrived, she received a message that the girls had called and wanted to ask her something. Ms. Pearl dialed Battaglia’s phone number. Battaglia answered the phone, which was on the speaker-phone function, and ordered Mary Faith to “ask her.” Mary Faith said, “Mommy, why do you want Daddy to go to jail?” Ms. Pearl began to tell Battaglia not to do this to the girls, and then she heard Mary Faith say, “No, daddy, please don’t, don’t do it.” Ms. Pearl yelled into the phone, “Run, run for the door.” She heard gunshots, and Battaglia scream, “Merry f-ing Christmas.” After hearing more gunshots, Ms. Pearl hung up and called 911.
The police discovered the girls’ bodies in Battaglia’s apartment. Nine-year-old Mary Faith had three gunshot wounds, including a shot to her back which severed her spinal cord and ruptured her aorta, a contact shot to the back of her head which exited her forehead, and a shot to her shoulder. Either of the first two shots would have been rapidly fatal.
Six-year-old Liberty had four gunshot wounds and a graze wound to the top of her head. One shot entered her back, severed her spinal cord, went through a lung, and lodged in her chest. After losing about one third of her blood, she received a contact shot to her head which passed through her brain, exited her face, and was immediately fatal.
The girls were shot with a semiautomatic pistol which was found near the kitchen phone. Mary Faith’s body was found by the phone in the kitchen. Liberty’s body was found ten to fifteen feet from the front door.
After shooting his daughters, Battaglia went with a girlfriend to a bar and then to a tattoo parlor where he got tattoos related to his daughters. Battaglia was arrested next to his truck outside the tattoo parlor. It took four officers to restrain and handcuff him. Officers took a fully loaded revolver from Battaglia’s truck after his arrest.
Police recovered two rifles, three shotguns, and a pistol (in addition to the murder weapon) from Battaglia’s apartment. The morning after the offense, police retrieved an answering machine from Ms. Pearl’s house. There were two messages from Mary Faith stating that they had a question and asking Ms. Pearl to call them back. There was also a message from Battaglia, left after the murders, in which he told the girls goodnight, stated that he hoped they were resting in a different place, that he loved them and that they were very brave, and that he wished they had nothing to do with their mother, that she was “evil and vicious and stupid.”
On May 10, 2001, Battaglia was indicted in the 363rd Judicial District Court of Dallas County, Texas, for the capital offense of murdering Mary Faith Battaglia and Liberty Battaglia with a firearm during the same criminal transaction. After Battaglia pleaded not guilty, a jury found him guilty of the capital offense.
On April 30, 2002, following a separate punishment hearing, the court assessed Battaglia’s punishment at death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) affirmed Battaglia’s conviction and sentence in an unpublished opinion on May 18, 2005.
Battaglia filed a state application for writ of habeas corpus in the trial court on February 17, 2005. The trial court submitted findings of fact and conclusions of law recommending that Battaglia be denied relief.
The CCA adopted the trial court’s findings and conclusions and denied Battaglia habeas relief on September 23, 2009.
Battaglia filed a federal habeas petition in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, on September 22, 2010.
On August 19, 2013, a magistrate issued findings, conclusions and a recommendation that Battaglia’s petition be denied.
On October 9, 2013, the federal district judge adopted the magistrate’s findings and denied Battaglia habeas corpus relief.
Next, Battaglia sought permission to appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On July 15, 2015, the Fifth Circuit denied Battaglia’s request. Battaglia filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court on October 16, 2015. The Court denied certiorari review on January 11, 2016.
Battaglia’s first execution date was set for March 30, 2016. Approximately a month before, Battaglia filed a motion for appointment of counsel in the state trial court for the purpose of preparing a claim that he was incompetent to be executed.
On March 2, 2016, the trial court denied the motion. Battaglia then filed a motion for appointment of counsel and motion for stay of execution in federal district court.
On March 18, 2016, the district court denied the motions. Battaglia appealed this decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the appellate court granted Battaglia a stay of execution on March 30, 2016.
Battaglia’s execution was rescheduled for December 7, 2016. In the meantime, Battaglia went back to state court and ultimately filed a motion of incompetency to be executed pursuant to Article 46.05 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Battaglia was evaluated by four experts, and the trial court held a hearing on the matter.
On November 16, 2016, the trial court held that Battaglia was competent to be executed.
On November 21, 2016, Battaglia filed a motion for stay of execution with the CCA, also requesting that the court review the trial court’s ruling. The CCA stayed the execution for review of the issue.
On September 17, 2017, the CCA affirmed the trial court’s ruling, and the trial court rescheduled Battaglia’s execution date for February 1, 2018.
On December 13, 2017, Battaglia submitted a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court off of the CCA’s decision, and the State filed a response.
On January 2, 2018, Battaglia filed an application to stay his execution and a motion for investigative services in the federal district court. The Director filed her response on January 16, 2018, and on January 24, 2018, the district court denied both motions.
On January 26, 2018, Battaglia filed an appeal to stay execution with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On February 1, 2018, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court and denied a stay of execution.
Also on February 1, 2018, Battaglia filed a petition for writ of certiorari and motion to stay his execution in the Supreme Court.
EVIDENCE OF FUTURE DANGEROUSNESS
The State presented evidence that Battaglia’s history of violence predated the relationship involving the victims’ mother, his second ex-wife. The earlier history of violent behavior was presented through the testimony of Battaglia’s first ex-wife, Michelle Ghetti. Ms. Ghetti told the jury that she was married to Battaglia from 1985 to 1987, during which time they had a child named Kristy. During the couple’s marriage, Bo, Ms. Ghetti’s son from a previous marriage, also lived with them. Ms. Ghetti described her family’s life with Battaglia as one of increasingly violent episodes on his part.
She first observed Battaglia’s violent tendencies during an incident on the road involving strangers. In February of 1985, the couple was traveling late at night on a highway. Teenagers in the car ahead of theirs shined a big spotlight at Battaglia. Battaglia reacted by reaching in a bag for his gun. Ms. Ghetti was surprised by the presence of the weapon and removed the bag from Battaglia’s reach to avoid further trouble.
In July of 1985, when Ms. Ghetti was pregnant with Kristy, Battaglia violently grabbed her, placed his arm around her neck, and made it clear to her that she should not ask him again for his help with a household chore. There were also incidents during which Battaglia threw Bo against a wall and kicked him hard enough to raise Bo off the floor. In March of 1986, Ms. Ghetti asked Battaglia for help in a household matter, and he jabbed his finger into her chest, bruising her, as he instructed her to leave him alone. In June of 1986, Battaglia beat her after he became angry at her disapproval of his interest in attending art school. In September of 1986, Battaglia became angry at her silence in his presence, struck her in the head, and caused her to drop ten-month-old Kristy, which resulted in Kristy hitting her head against the wall. The couple separated after this incident.
Once they were separated, Battaglia began stalking Ms. Ghetti. There were incidents when she would find Battaglia inside her garage when she arrived home. Battaglia wiretapped her home telephone and, thereafter, it became apparent to her that he had been listening to her telephone conversations with others. In the latter part of 1986, Battaglia threatened to kill her, giving her descriptive details of how he would do this if she did not resume her relationship with him.
On one occasion, Ms. Ghetti actually found Battaglia standing over her in her bedroom late one night. He tried to have sexual intercourse with her but she resisted. He later telephoned her to inform her that her protective order was comical and worthless in protecting her from him. Later, he threatened her because she had reported this incident to the police. Specifically, Battaglia called Ms. Ghetti’s employer and fabricated a tale of her sexual impropriety with a fellow employee. He told the employer that he would not spread this information if the charges against him were dropped. Due to this threatening contact from Battaglia, the other employees were informed that he was a security risk.
In January of 1987, Battaglia encountered Ms. Ghetti while traveling on a highway. He tried to force her car into the median, gestured toward her as if he were firing a gun at her, and threw a rock at her car. As a result, Battaglia was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to jail. On August 25, 1987, he appeared at Ms. Ghetti’s home in violation of the protective order and pushed her down her porch stairs. She informed the police of the protective order violation. Battaglia threatened her for having charged him with another offense. He later found her walking home from a bus stop and beat her until she was unconscious. He told her that if he had to go to jail, he would make it worth his while. She was hospitalized for her injuries. Battaglia then threatened her son, saying he would also beat him the same way. This incident resulted in Battaglia’s assault conviction, for which he was placed on probation.
Ms. Ghetti also told the jury that seven hours before Battaglia killed Mary Faith and Liberty, Battaglia left a message on her telephone recorder, at which time he contemplated the effect the loss of Liberty and Mary Faith would have on Ms. Pearl. In that message, Battaglia accused Ms. Ghetti of conspiring with Ms. Pearl to have him put in jail. He said that doing this would ruin his life and his relationship with his daughters and that Ms. Pearl needed to lose her children.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard E. Coons also testified for the State. Dr. Coons concluded that Battaglia killed his children as an act of anger and retribution, to punish Ms. Pearl. Although Dr. Coons agreed with other psychiatrists who had testified on Battaglia’s behalf that Battaglia probably has bipolar disorder, he believed Battaglia has a milder form of it. Dr. Coons stated that Battaglia has Bipolar II disorder rather than Bipolar I. Bipolar I is characterized by extremely manic behavior, while those with a Bipolar II disorder have hypomanic, or below manic, episodes which do not interfere with their functioning. Dr. Coons further testified that Battaglia’s conscience would not keep him from committing offenses in the future because “[h]is conscious [sic] didn’t keep him from committing the instant offense.” He also had concerns about whether Battaglia would remain on his medication in jail because Battaglia liked the manic states he experienced without the medication. Dr. Coons stated that Battaglia exhibited a number of characteristics of a person with antisocial personality disorder and that Battaglia rationalized and blamed others for his actions.
For additional information and statistics, please access the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us.