John David Battaglia, 62, was executed by lethal injection on 1 February 2018 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of his two daughters.
Mary Jean Pearle married John Battaglia in 1991. They lived in Dallas and had their first daughter, Mary Faith, in 1992, and their second, Liberty, in 1995. They separated in 1999, and she filed for divorce.
On Christmas morning of 1999, Battaglia went to his estranged wife's house to pick up the girls for church. He became angry with her and attacked and beat her in front of the children. He was charged with assault and sentenced to two years' probation.
The couple's divorce was final in August 2000. An Agreed Protective Order was issued at that time prohibiting Battaglia from stalking, threatening, or harassing his daughters or ex-wife. He was also prohibited from owning a firearm.
Around Easter 2001, Pearle received a phone message from Battaglia, in which he angrily swore at her and called her names. She reported the call to his probation officer, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
On 2 May, Battaglia, then 45, found out that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. Around noon, he called his ex-wife, Michelle Gheddi, and left her a message stating that maybe Pearle should lose her kids. That evening, Pearle, 38, dropped the girls off with Battaglia at a Highland Park shopping center that was their customary weekly meeting place. She then went to a friend's house.
Upon her arrival, she received a message that the girls had called and wanted to ask her something.* She dialed Battaglia's number. He answered the phone and placed the call on the speaker. He then told Mary Faith, "ask her." Mary Faith then said, "Mommy, why do you want Daddy to go to jail?" Pearle began to speak to Battaglia, then she heard Mary Faith say, "No, daddy, please don't, don't do it." Pearle yelled into the phone, "Run! Run for the door!" She heard gunshots, then heard Battaglia scream, "Merry [expletive] Christmas." After hearing more gunshots, Pearle hung up and called 9-1-1.
After shooting his daughters, Battaglia left a message on Pearle's answering machine addressed to the girls. "Goodnight, my little babies," he said. "I hope you are resting in a different place. I love you." He said they were very brave, and added, "I wish you had nothing to do with your mother. She was evil and vicious and stupid." He also left a message on Gheddi's machine telling her he was sending their daughter, Kristy, some money for college and that she should invest it wisely. After leaving the messages, Battaglia went with a girlfriend to a bar. He then went to a tattoo parlor where he got a tattoo depicting two flowers, representing his daughters.
Police arrived at the Deep Ellum apartment complex where Battaglia lived. Pearle was already there. She was described in court records as "hysterical." Witnesses reported seeing Battaglia drive away in a black extended-cab pickup.
The police broke into Battaglia's apartment and found the girls' bodies inside. Mary Faith, 9, 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. Liberty, 6, had four gunshot wounds. One shot entered her back, severed her spinal cord, passed through a lung, and lodged in her chest. A contact shot to her head passed through her brain and exited her face. The medical examiner testified that Liberty lost 30 percent of her blood - which means her heart was beating - and may have even been alert between when her spinal cord was severed and when she was shot in the head.
The murder weapon, a semiautomatic pistol, was found near the kitchen phone. Mary Faith's body was by the phone. Liberty's body was ten to fifteen feet from the front door. Police recovered two rifles, three shotguns, and a second pistol from the apartment.
Police spotted Battaglia's pickup at about 1:00 a.m. He was arrested next to his truck outside the tattoo parlor. He resisted, and four officers were needed to restrain and handcuff him. Officers took a loaded revolver from his truck after his arrest.
During the punishment phase of Battaglia's trial, Michelle Gheddi testified that she was married to him for two years, from 1985 to 1987, and that they had a daughter, Kristy. She described several incidents when he became angry and struck or threatened her. Twice, he was physically violent toward Gheddi's son from a previous marriage. They separated after he struck her while she was holding Kristy, causing her to drop the child. Gheddi testified that she obtained a protective order against him, nevertheless, he came to her house, watched her through the windows, and pounded on her doors and windows. He followed her in his car, tapped her telephone, and constantly called her home and office at all hours of the day and night. She said he called her employers and creditors and made false statements about her. She said he threatened to kill himself and her, describing in detail how he planned to cut her up and kill her with a knife.
One night, Gheddi testified, she woke up after midnight to see Battaglia standing over her bed, holding her shoulders down, wanting to have sex with her. She refused and filed a police report. He later called the law office where Gheddi was an attorney and told one of the partners that she was having an affair with another partner in the firm and was carrying his child. He threatened to go to the press with this information unless the partner convinced Gheddi to drop the charges against him.
Gheddi further testified that in January 1987, Battaglia tried to force her car onto the median of the freeway. He pointed his finger at her in the shape of a gun and threw a rock through his open window at her car. She filed another police report, and he was arrested. He spent several days in jail. After his release, he apologized to her and changed his behavior for a few months, and they were able to work out a divorce decree. He eventually became volatile again, however, and hit her in anger while he was picking up their daughter. After another incident, when he pushed her down the front steps of her house, she filed charges on him again. Later that day, after she refused his pleas to drop the charges, he approached her outside of her son's school. He walked toward her and said, smiling, "If I'm going back to jail, I'm going to make it worth my while." He then beat her until she lost consciousness, breaking her nose and dislocating her jaw. She was hospitalized. After he threatened to do the same thing to her son, she moved to Louisiana.
The defense claimed that Battaglia should not get the death penalty because he had bipolar disorder. "You can't punish a person who is mentally ill the same way you would a person who is not," defense attorney Paul Johnson said.
* A news account published the day after Battaglia's arrest stated that Pearle phoned Battaglia because her mother, Dorrace Pearle, said he had called wanting to ask her something. This implies that the "friend" referred to here in the court records was actually her mother.
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