A Dallas man who shot and killed his two young daughters while their mother listened over the phone in shock has had his execution delayed once again.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay of execution Friday for John Battaglia in order to further examine whether he is mentally competent to be executed. His death was scheduled for Wednesday.
On a May evening in 2001, the 61-year-old accountant had his daughters, 6-year-old Liberty and 9-year-old Mary Faith, over for dinner, according to a previous opinion issued by the Court of Criminal Appeals. He had just learned he had a warrant out for his arrest for harassing their mother, his ex-wife.
Battaglia called his ex-wife and gave the phone to the older girl.
“Mommy, why do you want Daddy to go to jail?" Mary Faith asked, according to her mother.
His ex-wife pleaded with Battaglia to stop, then heard her daughter say, “No, daddy, please don't, don't do it."
Next came the gunshots.
Police discovered the girls’ bodies in their father’s apartment, each with several gunshot wounds, the appeals court opinion said. Battaglia was arrested at a tattoo parlor later that night, after getting new tattoos representing his daughters; it took four officers to restrain him.
He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in April 2002. He has lived on Texas’ death row for more than 14 years.
In March, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on the day of his scheduled execution to let him argue in court whether he is mentally competent to be executed. To be put to death, Battaglia must understand why he’s been sentenced to death and that his execution is imminent.
In November, a state district court took up the case to examine his competency. Three of four psychologists presented in the hearing testified that Battaglia suffered from a delusional disorder and was unfit for execution, according to the Dallas Morning News. But Judge Robert Burns ruled he had enough understanding to be executed.
The ruling then went to the Court of Criminal Appeals for review, which said in its order on Friday that the case needed more than a “bare-bones” review by the trial court. It ruled that a “full briefing on the appeal is warranted in this case.”
The state and Battaglia have 60 days to issue briefs before the Court of Criminal Appeals, according to the order. In the meantime, he will continue to live on death row.
Texas has put seven men to death this year, the lowest number since 1996. No more executions are set for 2016, but the state has scheduled eight for next year so far.
- To learn more about Battaglia’s crime and case, read our article from his previous stay of execution.
- Battaglia’s execution would have been the eighth and last of the year in Texas. At seven executions, Texas will see the lowest number of executions in 20 years.