This article is over 4 years old


UPDATE: Dallas Man Executed For Killing Daughters While Mom Listened

His was the nation’s third execution this year, all in Texas

Dallas County Court files
John Battaglia and his two daughters, Liberty (l.) and Faith, who he murdered on May 1, 2001.

A former Dallas accountant condemned for fatally shooting his two young daughters while their mother listened helplessly on the phone was put to death Thursday night in Texas.

John David Battaglia received lethal injection for the May 2001 killings of his 9-year-old daughter, Faith, and her 6-year-old sister, Liberty. Battaglia and his wife had separated and the girls were killed at his Dallas apartment during a scheduled visit.

The punishment was carried out after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from his lawyers to review his case, contending Battaglia, 62, was delusional and mentally incompetent for execution.

His was the nation’s third execution this year, all in Texas.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier in the day rejected an appeal that argued a lower court improperly refused his lawyers money to hire an expert to further examine legal claims of his mental competency.

John Battaglia

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.

Attorneys for Battaglia contended he didn’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.

State attorneys said 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.

Another unsuccessful appeal challenged the effectiveness of the pentobarbital Texas uses as its execution drug. Attorneys contended the state’s supply was outdated and Battaglia was at risk for unconstitutionally cruel punishment.

A state judge and the state appeals 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’s 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 … Christmas,” Battaglia told Pearle, the words of the holiday greeting derisively divided by an obscenity.

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 at 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 apartment.

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.”


The lawyers of a Dallas man set to be executed Thursday for the deaths of his two daughters have filed a last-minute appeal alleging the state's last two executions were botched using expired and relabeled drugs.

The execution of John Battaglia, 62, would be the state’s third of the year and second this week. The two previous executions, Battaglia’s lawyers say, were "tortuous," and the state plans to use the same drugs on their client.

"Ohhh weee, I can feel that it does burn," Houston serial killer Anthony Shore said after being injected with a lethal dose of compounded pentobarbital on Jan. 18, according to the filing. A Houston Chronicle reporter at the execution cited a similar quote.

William Rayford, who was executed Tuesday night, attempted to raise his body, shook, grimaced and jerked his head into the gurney multiple times, witnesses said.

Now, Battaglia wants a federal court to stop his execution scheduled after 6 p.m. due to the "substantial risk of cruel and unusual punishment." He has other late appeals pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, too, claiming he is mentally incompetent for execution. Experts who have examined him say Battaglia thinks he was sentenced to death as part of a delusional cover-up.

The latest filing alleges that the execution drugs used are more than a year expired. A batch was previously set to expire on Jan. 22, but a month ago, the drugs were re-tested and given a new expiration date of November, according to the appeal.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice records received by The Texas Tribune last year indicated a similar situation: drugs set to expire in July were removed from stock, and, on the same day, the same number of vials were added back to the inventory with an expiration date set for one year in the future. Lab reports showed drugs were tested earlier in the month and reported a potency of 101 percent.

The symptoms by Shore and Rayford correspond with the use of expired drugs, Battaglia's filing claims.

Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said the claims aren't true. The two men lost consciousness almost immediately after being injected with the lethal dose and were pronounced dead 13 minutes later, he added.

"This is nothing more than legal maneuvering," Clark said.

Battaglia killed his daughters while they were at his house for dinner in May 2001, according to court records. He had just learned there was a warrant out for his arrest after he harassed their mother and his ex-wife, Mary Jean Pearle. He got Pearle on the phone and had his oldest daughter, 9-year-old Mary Faith, ask her why she wanted Battaglia to go to jail.

Before the screams and gunshots, Pearle heard her daughter's last words: "No, daddy, please don't, don't do it."

Police discovered the bodies of Mary Faith and her 6-year-old sister, Liberty, in Battaglia's apartment with multiple gunshot wounds, the records show. It took four officers to restrain him when he was later found at a tattoo parlor with freshly-inked tattoos representing his daughters.

The girls' mother testified in court that she found a message from Battaglia the next day on their answering machine.

"Goodnight, my little babies," he said. "You were very brave girls."

Battaglia was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in April 2002. After his state and federal appeals were denied, he was set for execution in March 2016. But just hours before his scheduled death, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals halted the execution to allow Battaglia to develop a claim that he was incompetent for execution. To be eligible for execution, Battaglia must understand that he is about to be executed and have a rational understanding of why.

Psychologists who examined Battaglia said he believes his sentence stems from a vast conspiracy that includes his ex-wives, former attorneys, prosecutors, trial judge, jury and the Ku Klux Klan. He has also claimed he was drugged and doesn't remember the murders. These delusions, his lawyers claim, prevent him from a “rational understanding” of his punishment.

A state district court took up the case, and the judge ruled that Battaglia had enough understanding of his situation to be executed even though three of the four psychologists who examined Battaglia said he was unfit for execution. Another execution date was set, but this time, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stepped in, saying the case needed more than the "bare-bones" review done by the trial court.

After its own review, the Court of Criminal Appeals issued a 78-page opinion explaining its decision that Battaglia was eligible for execution. The court upheld the trial court's belief that he is faking or exaggerating his mental illness to avoid execution, citing a recorded phone call Battaglia had with his father calling the death penalty “a damn chess game.”

Judge Elsa Alcala dissented, as she often does in death penalty cases, saying the court used the wrong standard in determining Battaglia’s competence, not the “rational understanding” precedent the U.S. Supreme Court set in another Texas death penalty case. She said she’d send the case back to the trial court to examine if Battaglia’s awareness of the reason for his execution “is so distorted by his delusional thinking that the punishment can serve no proper purpose.”

Battaglia's lawyers appealed the ruling to the U.S Supreme Court, where it is currently pending along with an appeal stemming from federal court. His latest claim regarding the execution drugs was denied in federal district court Thursday afternoon, but is being challenged in higher courts. If all appeals are denied, Battaglia will be executed after 6 p.m.

There are three other executions scheduled in Texas through April.



Today in Houston Newsletter Signup
We're in the process of transitioning services for our Today in Houston newsletter. If you'd like to sign up now, fill out the form below and we will add you as soon as we finish the transition. **Please note** If you are already signed up for the newsletter, you do not need to sign up again. Your subscription will be migrated over.