A federal appeals court has stopped the planned execution of a 60-year-old former accountant who gunned down his two young daughters in Dallas while his ex-wife — their mother — listened helplessly on the phone.
John David Battaglia was set for lethal injection Wednesday evening for the May 2001 shooting deaths of his daughters, Faith, 9, and Liberty, 6, in his apartment.
He'd be the 10th convicted killer executed in the U.S. this year, the sixth in Texas.
Authorities said the slayings were revenge for his former wife's complaints to his probation officer that led to an arrest warrant issued for him.
An attorney seeking to represent Battaglia has asked federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, for a reprieve so Battaglia's mental competency for execution could be further reviewed.
The Supreme Court has ruled a prisoner can be executed if he's aware of his pending execution and understands why he's being put to death.
"This situation is morally bankrupt and violates basic notions of fairness in our capital punishment system," attorney Gregory Gardner told the high court, which in January refused to review his case.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Battaglia's lawyer, halting the punishment about seven hours before Battaglia could have been taken to the Texas death chamber Wednesday evening.
Source: The Associated Press, March 30, 2016
U.S. court halts execution of Texas man who killed his daughters
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said a counsel for death row inmate, John Battaglia, 60, had abandoned him for part of his appeal process and the offender should have his execution halted as a result.
The move came hours before Battaglia was set to receive a lethal injection at the state's death chamber in Huntsville.
Battaglia's lawyers also launched last-minute appeals on other grounds, arguing he should be spared because he suffers from bipolar disorder, which was not properly considered in sentencing.
"Mr. Battaglia has presented evidence. . .that his delusions make him not understand the reasoning behind his execution," they said in a U.S. Supreme Court filing.
The appeals court also said an attorney who should have represented Battaglia in state mental competency hearings did not.
Battaglia had a history of beating women and been divorced from his wife, Mary Jean Pearl, for about a year when he fatally shot their two daughters, Mary Faith, 9 years old, and Liberty, 6, in May 2001, prosecutors said.
At the time of the shooting, Pearl was seeking to have him arrested for violating a protective order by threatening her.
Source: Reuters, March 30, 2016