Many crimes, even the most cruel and destructive, have reasons behind them that we can understand even if we can’t empathize. However, there are some stories that are difficult to describe as anything else but evil.
John David Battaglia, a 62-year-old accountant from Texas, was executed by lethal injection in Dallas last Thursday. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his two daughters, nine-year-old Faith and her six-year-old sister Liberty, all while their mother listened helplessly on the phone.
During Christmas in 1999, two years before the crime, Battaglia had been arrested for attacking his wife, Mary Jean Pearle. In 2001 he was on probation for the incident, and picked up his daughters for a court-ordained visit. Mary Jean was out for dinner when she noticed a missed call from one of her daughters. When she called back she was put on speakerphone by her estranged husband, hearing the sounds of her daughter Faith pleading for her life.
Pearle had recently informed the police that he was harassing her, which had angered Battaglia. Prosecutors argued that he took this out on the girls that day. “No, daddy, please don’t, don’t do it” the mother heard Faith say. She yelled for them to run, then heard gunshots. Referring to the 1999 attack, he said to his wife, “Merry f***ing Christmas”.
Faith was shot three times and Liberty five, by the time the police arrived at the scene. Battaglia was later arrested outside 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, they found a fully-loaded revolver in his truck and more than a dozen firearms in his apartment.
After being on death row for the past 16 years, he was given the lethal injection in Dallas. He was asked by the warden if he had a final statement, to which he said “No” but then changed his mind. Before he died, he smiled at the mother, Mary Jean Pearle, and the other witnesses in the viewing area.
“Well, hi, Mary Jean,” he said with a smile. “I’ll see y’all later. Bye.”
He closed his eyes and looked up, opening his eyes and asking “Am I still alive?”, then the sedative pentobarbital took effect. “Oh, I feel it”, he said before gasping twice and falling unconscious.
“I’ve seen enough of him,” Pearle said after he stopped breathing.
In an interview with the Dallas Morning News in 2014 he referred to his daughters, whose photos were on his cell wall, as his “best little friends”. “I don’t feel like I killed them,” he said. “I am a little bit in the blank about what happened”.
He made several appeals to avoid execution. His lawyers argued that they required an expert to further examine legal claims of his mental competency, hoping to receive a stay of execution. However, a state judge and the state appeals court ruled that Battaglia was highly intelligent, competent, and faking mental illness to avoid execution.
Testimony at a hearing claimed that he had used the prison library to research capital case rulings on mental competence and discussed with his father on the phone the “chess game” of avoiding the death penalty.
State judge Robert Burns said that his intelligence showed he was not a “typical inmate” and has the “motive and intellectual capability to maintain a deliberate ploy or ruse to avoid his execution”.
Battaglia was the United States’ third execution this year, all of which took place in Texas.