John Battaglia Killed His Daughters to Get Even With His Ex

She Never Thought He Would Hurt Their Daughters

John David Battaglia
(L) Battaglia at the time of his arrest. (R) 2016. Mug Shots

Update: Execution Halted Hours Before Battaglia was Scheduled to Die

John Battaglia, age 60, was scheduled for lethal injection on Wednesday, March 30, 2016, for the revenge killing of his two young daughters, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a halt to it. The court agreed with Battaglia's attorney that he has a right to have claims that he is too mentally incompetent and delusional to be executed investigated.

John David Battaglia shot and killed his two young daughters to get even with his ex-wife for reporting him to his parole officer on a probation violation.

A former Marine and CPA, John Battaglia was well liked by his friends and family. He appeared to be a good guy, fun spirited and charming or that was what MaryJean Pearle thought when she married him, but on their wedding night, Battaglia's dark side began to emerge.

At first, he would fly off the handle and throw a few curse words and insults at his new wife. Pearle did not like it, but she put up with it because they shared more good times together than bad. The following year their first daughter, Faith, was born and then Liberty, three years later. Now with a family to consider, Pearle tried even harder to make the marriage work.

An Idyllic Life With Hidden Secrets

Living in an upscale neighborhood in Dallas, the small family seemed to have an idyllic life.

But inside the home, Battaglia's violent episodes began happening more often. He verbally abused Pearle, screaming obscenities at her and calling her vile names. 

As time went on, the verbal attacks lasted longer and in an effort to keep her family together, Pearle endured it. The girls adored their Dad, who had always been a gentle and loving father to them, even though his temper tantrums that he unleashed on Pearle continued to increase.

Then one night his anger switched from verbally attacking Pearle, to going after her physically. She was able to get away and call 911. Battaglia was placed on probation and although he was allowed to see the girls, he was not allowed to enter their home.

The separation gave Pearle a chance to think and it did not take long for her to realize that after seven years of abuse and having her children exposed to a lot of it, that it was time to file for a divorce.

Christmas 1999

On Christmas day in 1999, Pearle allowed Battaglia to come into the home so he could visit with the girls. The visit ended in the two of them arguing and Battaglia violently attacking Pearle. He beat her with full force on the back of her head as she tried to protect herself from the blows.

Battaglia was arrested and charged with assault. He was put on two years' probation and was forbidden to have contact with Pearle. He could also not visit his daughters for 30 days.

When the 30 days ended, normal weekly visitation started back up and so did the verbal assaults toward his ex-wife.

Rage and Resentment

The divorce came through the following August, but that did not deter Battaglia from leaving obscene and often threatening messages on his ex-wife's phone.

As the threats progressed, Pearle became more fearful that one day her ex-husband might really act on what he was saying, but the thought that he would ever hurt the girls did not enter her mind. Visitation between the girls and their father continued.

After a particularly frightening call from Battaglia in April 2001, Pearle decided it was time to get help. She contacted her ex-husband's probation officer and reported that he had been making threatening calls, which was a violation of his parole. 

A few weeks later, on May 2, Battaglia found out that his parole had been revoked and that he was probably going to be arrested for the calls that he made to his ex-wife and for testing positive for marijuana. He was assured by a police officer that the warrant would not be executed in front of his children and that he could make arrangements with his lawyer to peacefully turn himself in.

He was scheduled to have the girls over for dinner that same night and Pearle, not knowing that Battaglia had any knowledge that she had reported him to his parole officer, dropped off the girls with him at the normal meeting place.

A Daughter's Cry

Later that evening Pearle received a message from one of her daughters. When she returned the call, Battaglia put the call on speakerphone, and told his daughter Faith to ask her mother, "Why do you want Daddy to go to jail?"

Then Pearle heard her daughter screaming, "No, Daddy, please don't, don't do it." Gunshots followed the child's cry and then Battaglia screamed, "Merry (profanity) Christmas, then there were more gunshots. Mary Jean Pearle hung up the phone and frantically called 9.1.1.

After shooting 9-year-old Faith three times and 6-year-old Liberty five times Battaglia went to his office where he left one more message, but this time to his dead daughters.

"Goodnight my little babies," he said. "I hope you're resting in a different place. I love you, and I wish that you had nothing to do with your mother. She was evil and vicious and stupid. I love you dearly."

Then he met up with a girlfriend and went to a bar and then to a tattoo shop and had two red roses tattooed on his left arm in honor of his daughters that he had just murdered.

Battaglia was arrested as he left the tattoo shop at 2 a.m. It took four officers to restrain and handcuff him. Officers took a fully loaded revolver from Battaglia's truck after his arrest. Inside his apartment police found several firearms and the automatic pistol used in the shootings laying on the kitchen floor.

Autopsy

Faith 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. Either of the first two shots would have been rapidly fatal.

Six-year-old Liberty had four gunshot wounds and a graze wound to the top of her head. One shot entered her back, severed her spinal cord, went through a lung, and lodged in her chest.

After losing about one-third of her blood, she received a contact shot to her head which passed through her brain, exited her face, and was immediately fatal.

A History of Abuse is Revealed

In less than 20 minutes of deliberation, the jury found Battaglia guilty of murder. 

During the punishment phase of the trial, Battaglia's first wife, Michelle Gheddi, testified about the abuse she had suffered during their marriage that lasted from 1985 to 1987, and then after their divorce.

Twice Battaglia was physically violent toward Gheddi's son from a previous marriage. Once when Ms. Gheddi was traveling with Battaglia in the car, he became angry at some other motorists and tried to reach for a gun he had in the car. They separated after an incident in which Battaglia struck Gheddi while she was holding their daughter Kristy, causing her to drop the child.

After the separation, Battaglia stalked Gheddi, watched her through the windows of her home, followed her in his car and somehow managed to tap her phone line. He called Gheddi's employers and creditors and made false statements about her.

He threatened to kill himself and her, and once described to her in detail how he planned to cut her up and kill her with a knife. One night Gheddi woke up sometime after midnight to find her estranged husband standing over her bed and holding her shoulders down. He wanted to have sex, but she refused. Later she filed a police report about the incident.

In January of 1987, Battaglia spent several days in jail after throwing a rock at Gheddi through her car window. After his release, things seemed to improve, but for only for a few months.

Gheddi again filed charges against Battaglia after two more violent episodes. Battaglia begged her to drop the charges, but she refused.

Later that day, he approached Gheddi outside of her son's school. Smiling as he came toward her, he told her, "If I'm going back to jail, I'm going to make it worth my while." He then beat Gheddi until she lost consciousness, breaking her nose and dislocating her jaw. After she got out of the hospital, he threatened to do the same to her son, so she moved to Louisiana

At noon on the day that Faith and Liberty were killed, Battaglia left a message on Gheddi's answering machine saying that maybe Pearl should lose her kids. He left another message later that evening for Kristy, telling her that he was sending her money for college and to use it wisely.

Psychiatric Testimony

Four forensic psychiatrists testified about Battaglia's mental state when he murdered his children. They all agreed that Battaglia suffered from bipolar disorder, and all but one of the doctors thought that with the proper medication and under a controlled environment, he was a low risk for future criminal violence. All of the doctors testified that Battaglia knew what he was doing when he murdered his daughters.

Death Sentence

On May 1, 2002, after deliberating for close to seven hours, the jury agreed with the prosecutors who felt that the murders were a result of Battaglia seeking revenge because of his ex-wife's actions and that he could pose a possible threat in the future. Battaglia, who was 46 years old at the time, was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

"Best Little Friends"

Referring to his daughters as his "best little friends," Battaglia told The Dallas Morning News that he did not feel like he had killed his daughters and that he was, "a little bit in the blank about what happened."

During the interview Battaglia showed no remorse for murdering his daughters, instead placing the blame for his situation on his ex-wife, the prosecutor, the judge and the news media. He said that Pearle was putting a lot of financial pressure on him and that after the divorce he had to work two jobs to keep up with his obligations. 

On the night that he shot and killed his daughters, he said that Faith had told him that Pearle was trying to have him arrested. Stressed out, exhausted, angered and wanting Pearle to suffer, he did the one thing he knew would hurt her the most. He killed the children, although he says he has little memory of the actual event.