John Battaglia in 2002
John Battaglia in 2002
Mark Graham

Deep Ellum Child Killer John Battaglia Found Competent for Execution

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed John Battaglia's claims of incompetence late Wednesday, clearing the way for the state of Texas to put the Dallas child killer to death more than 16 years after his crimes. Over the past year, Battaglia's defense team and lawyers for the state have argued over whether Battaglia knows why he is to die and that his execution is imminent — Texas' two requirements for death row inmates to receive lethal injection.

In 2001, Battaglia shot his two daughters eight times in his Deep Ellum loft shortly after his divorce from his wife, Mary Jean Pearle. Pearle, in the midst of an attempt to get Battaglia's probation for assault revoked because her husband was harassing her on the phone, was on the phone with Battaglia as he shot their daughters, according to court testimony.

After killing the girls, Liberty and Mary Faith, as detailed in a 2002 Dallas Observer feature, Battaglia drove to an East Dallas tattoo parlor and got two rose tattoos to represent the daughters he'd just murdered. He then left an answering message for his ex-wife: "Goodnight, my little babies. I hope you are resting in a different place. I love you," he said.

At a lower court hearing in November, three psychologists who've examined Battaglia testified that he has from delusions that make him believe he did not kill Mary Faith and Liberty. A fourth psychologist, testifying for the state, said that he believed Battaglia was faking or exaggerating his symptoms. State District Judge Robert Burns agreed with the fourth psychologist, ruling Nov. 18 that Battaglia's execution could go forward.

Battaglia's first scheduled execution date was March 30, 2016. He received a reprieve from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seven hours before he was scheduled to die when the 5th Circuit agreed with Battaglia that he deserved a court-appointed attorney to investigate whether he was fit to be executed. Now that Texas' highest criminal court has ruled Battaglia fit for lethal injection, it is up to Burns to set an execution date.

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