A former Dallas accountant condemned for killing his two young daughters while their mother listened helplessly on the phone was put to death in Texas on Thursday night.
John David Battaglia,62, 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 Mary Jean Pearle, 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, was delusional and mentally incompetent for execution.
His was the nation’s third execution this year, all in Texas.
According to AP, Battaglia had smiled as the mother of his slain children, Pearle, and other witnesses to his lethal injection walked into the death chamber viewing area.
Asked by the warden if he had a final statement, the inmate replied: ‘No,’ then changed his mind.
“Well, hi, Mary Jean,” he said, looking and smiling at his ex-wife. “I’ll see y’all later. Bye.”
After that, he told the warden: “Go ahead, please.”
Battaglia then closed his eyes and looked directly up. A few seconds later he opened his eyes and lifted his head. “Am I still alive?” he asked.
When the powerful sedative pentobarbital began to take effect, he said: “Oh, I feel it.” He gasped twice and started to snore. Within a few more seconds, all movement stopped.
The time of death was 9.40pm – 22 minutes after the lethal dose began.
Pearle turned away from an execution-viewing window after Battaglia stopped breathing and walked to the back of the witness area.
“I’ve seen enough of him,” she said before returning minutes later to watch as a physician examined Battaglia and pronounced him dead.
Battaglia, who had separated from his wife, had picked up his daughters in a shopping center parking lot for his court ordered visit with the girls.
Prosecutors said Battaglia became enraged that Pearle had notified police that he was harassing her 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 had 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.
After hearing 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 and 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.
The 5th US 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.
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.
– Additional reporting by AP