2018-02-02 16:51:44 UTC
John David Battaglia, 62, was executed by lethal injection on 1
February 2018 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of his two
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
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 charged 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 jury found Battaglia guilty of capital murder in April 2002 and
sentenced him to death.
"You are one of the most heinous murderers of modern time," The
victims' mother said to Battaglia in court after the jury's verdict
was announced. "Hitler didn't kill his own children. Dahmer didn't
kill his own children." She wished him to "burn in Hell forever."
"I would like to say the next time you see me is when they put the
needle in your arm," she said, "But I'm not going to waste the time to
Pearle also vowed to spend her life helping victims of domestic abuse.
The Faith and Liberty's Place Family Center was established in the
girls' memory, serving as a location for supervised child visitation
and custody exchange in cases where one parent has a history of
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Battaglia's conviction
and sentence in May 2005. All of his subsequent appeals in state and
federal court were denied.
In an interview from Death Row with Dallas Morning News reporter Sarah
Mervosh in 2014, Battaglia did not admit killing his daughters, saying
he was "a little bit in the blank about what happened."
"A lot of people wanted to have me say certain things," he said. "And
I was given lots of nice drugs in the county jail, and I was given
lots and lots of information that I didn't necessarily know, and after
a while, I started repeating."
Battaglia's feelings about Mary Jean Pearle apparently had not
mellowed during his stay in prison. "I had a three-year-old and a
one-year-old. And a suicidal mother. So I stuck it out for another
five years, and then the piece of [expletive] just turned on me like
you wouldn't believe. And she ruined my life, and she ruined my
daughters' life, and she ruined my daughter Kristy's life."
Unlike most condemned prisoners, whose thoughts turn spiritual or
religious when discussing their upcoming executions, Battaglia was
unconcerned. When Mervosh asked whether he worried his daughters are
now, he answered, "Why would I worry about where they are now?" He
then said, "We're all here, we're all gone at the same time. I'm not
worried about it. Nobody should be worried about it."
Battaglia avoided execution twice in 2016. In March, he received a
stay on the day he was scheduled to be put to death so that his lawyer
could prepare a claim regarding his mental competency.
At his competency hearing, the prosecution presented evidence that
Battaglia, who was an accountant and had a master's degree, was faking
mental illness to avoid execution. Testimony showed that he used the
prison library to research mental competency in death penalty cases
and that in a telephone conversation with his father, he described his
attempt to avoid execution as a "chess game."
Battaglia received another execution date for December, but he managed
to play that game to a stalemate with new questions about his mental
As his third execution date approached, his lawyers once again filed
appeals claiming that he was incompetent. "Although he is aware of the
state's rationale for his execution, he does not have a rational
understanding of it," the appeal stated.
Thursday's execution was delayed for about three hours for the U.S.
Supreme Court to rule on his appeal.
Battaglia, strapped to the execution gurney, seemed jovial while
witnesses arrived to watch. He looked around and asked, "How many
people are there? Oh, that's a lot."
He initially declined the opportunity to make a last statement, but
when he spotted his ex-wife in the viewing room, he said, "Well, hi,
Mary Jean. I'll see y'all later. Bye. Go ahead, please."
Battaglia closed his eyes, and the lethal injection was then started.
He lifted his head, looked at the chaplain standing at his feet,
smiled, and asked, "Am I still alive?" He then grinned and sighed.
"Oh, here, I feel it," he said. He smiled again and closed his eyes.
Pearle leaned in as close as she could to the window separating the
witnesses from the death chamber. She watched as Battaglia's breathing
grew heavy and then stopped.
"I've seen enough of him," she declared, turning and walking to the
back of the room.
He was pronounced dead at 9:40 p.m.
(Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, court documents,
Associated Press, Dallas Morning News, Huntsville Item, Lubbock
(*) 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
Texas Execution Information
Texas Execution Information