A federal appeals court has stopped the scheduled lethal injection of a former accountant set to die for gunning down his two young daughters in Dallas 15 years ago while his ex-wife – their mother – was listening helplessly on the phone.
Texas had meant to execute John David Battaglia on Wednesday, almost 14 years after he was first sentenced to death.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed that on Wednesday, determining that Battaglia had “effectively lacked counsel to prepare his claim of incompetency”.
His execution would have been the nation’s 10th this year, and the sixth in Texas.
Months earlier, Battaglia had been put on probation for beating up Pearle in front of the girls, and a warrant for his arrest was issued after he broke an order of protection with a threatening phone call.
An attorney filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court last week, writing that Battaglia is incompetent to be executed, citing psychiatrists who diagnosed him with bipolar disorder as well as Battaglia’s legal filings showing that he believes “separate conspiracies somehow converged to form some super-conspiracy to kill his daughters and have him executed”.
Pearl then hysterically called 911 and police found the dead girls in Battaglia’s apartment.
In a prison interview with the Dallas Morning News in 2014, Battaglia shirked blame for the murders.
Just before opening fire, Battaglia had put Faith on the phone with her mother and made the child ask: “Why are you trying to put daddy in jail?”Then, as Pearle listened in horror, she heard her eldest daughter cry, “No, daddy, please don’t – don’t do it”, and then two rounds of gunshots, punctuated by a message from Battaglia: “Merry f-ing Christmas”.
John Battaglia, 60, shot Faith, nine, and Liberty, six, while their horrified mother sat helpless on the other end of the call in 2001.
After he killed his daughters, Battaglia went to the bar with his girlfriend before being arrested at a tattoo parlor, getting commemorative rose tattoos of his daughters, case documents show. “I am a little bit in the blank about what happened”. He referred to them as his “best little friends”. He declined to speak with The Associated Press as his execution date neared. Police also recovered two rifles, three shotguns and a pistol, as well as the murder weapon from his apartment.
The lead prosecutor at the trial, Howard Blackmon, recalled Battaglia as “uniquely sinister”.