february 21, 2014 (nbc)
A Highland Park man is on death row for shooting and killing his two daughters more than a decade ago.
John David Battaglia was arrested for the May 2, 2001 shooting deaths of 9-year-old Faith and 6-year-old Liberty in his downtown Dallas loft. The girls’ mother was on the phone and heard the gunshots.
Jurors found Battaglia guilty of capital murder and sentence him to death.
Battaglia, 58, is now on death row. Sarah Mervosh, a reporter with The Dallas Morning News, spoke with him for an hour in a jailhouse interview. Here is some of that interview.
Sarah Mervosh: “Do you feel like you were killing them to get back at your wife?”
Battaglia: “I don’t feel like I killed them.”
Mervosh: “You what?”
Battaglia: “I don’t feel like I killed them. I do not know why. If you read what I wrote, you will find that I am a little bit in the blank about what happened.”
Mervosh said Battaglia was persistent that he is innocent.
“From what he says and if I can infer that is true that he can’t remember what happened and he doesn’t feel like he did it,” Mervosh said.
During the interview, Battaglia talked about his late daughters.
“You think about your best little friends. Nicest little kids you’ve ever met. Not much you can do about that,” Battaglia said. “I have pictures of them up in my house. I have them on my table and on my wall, I have them around me all the time,” Battaglia said, speaking of his prison cell.
“I thought that was interesting that he wants to keep it in his line of sight, because it means something to him, and yet he killed them,” Mervosh later said.
Battaglia at one point turned on Mervosh, pointing his finger at her and yelling. But during the interview he saved most of his venom for the people he believes put him behind bars.
John Battaglia was an abuser…. period. Most of his abuse was directed at his two wives, however, there were others that were victims of his abuse. As the classic abuser however, he was able to use charisma and charm to get out of things and to convince people that he was the victim. Even when he was obviously caught he would blame the victim for pushing him to the point in which he abused. Also, like many classic abusers, after he abused his spouse he would apologize and cool down to which the women would take him back and accept his apologies.
Battaglia’s abuse to his first wife, to which he was often faced with legal problems began in the 1980’s. During this time domestic abuse was not taken very seriously. There was little talk about what went on behind closed doors and there was even less understanding as to the psyche of the abused woman. His first wife, Michelle, saw a few personality things prior to their marriage and although it was still considered a bit taboo at the time Michelle considered not going through with the marriage and raising their daughter as a single mother. While she was still pregnant with their daughter Michelle suffered mainly verbal abuse. However, she began to see some signs of physical abuse towards her son from a previous relationship. With each escalation of abuse Michelle would kick John out of the house but he would charm his way back in. Finally the abuse to her and her son came to a point in which his charm had no affect on her and she worried that their daughter would be in danger. She finally filed for divorce. When John could no longer control or even charm Michelle this enraged him. Michelle had gotten a restraining order against John but that did not stop him. She repeatedly changed the locks to her home and he would charm a locksmith into making him a copy. He would enter her home when she was not home and even when she was. She often woke in the middle of the night to find him in the home. At first it was even a challenge to prove that he was entering the home and doing things, then later it became a more challenge to get the authorities to do anything about it. Generally they would set out an arrest warrant for him. It would be a process of the police picking him up and taking him to the station where he would sign papers for his bail, pay the bail and walk out the door. These arrests and legal troubles only infuriated John more, although he generally faced little to no repercussions for his actions. Finally John went too far. He had hidden on a public street waiting for Michelle to pass and attacked her breaking her nose and dislocating her jaw…. and there was a witness. He spent some time in jail for this offense, but, as I said domestic violence was not taken as serious. Oftentimes the abused were (and still are at times) blamed for “pushing” the abuser. At this point Michelle realizes the only way to get away was to move out of state to where her family lived. Once she moved John’s criminal charges were still being debated. She was informed that he likely would not serve anymore jail time than he had already but that he would get probation which would not allow him to leave Dallas, Texas where he lived. At this point Michelle agreed with the agreement thinking the restrictions would keep her and her children safe. Michelle never imagined that John would be given unsupervised visitation with their daughter.
The ongoing belief at that time, and sadly still seems to be sometimes, is that when there is no evidence of abuse against the children but only against the spouse (or ex-spouse), there is no reason to limit contact between the abuser and their children. Again, this goes back to the mentality that it is about pushing buttons and isolated abuse only to the one person. Michelle also never thought of the future and if her actions or decisions could ever possibly affect anyone else. Her concern, as it should have been, was for the well being of herself and her children.
After a few years John met Mary Jean. They quickly married and over the course of the years had two daughters, Faith and Liberty. Luckily for Mary Jean and her children for many years there was no physical abuse from John, but the verbal abuse was evident from the start of their marriage, just like it had been for Michelle. For a long time Mary Jean knew little or at least believed little of what Michelle had been through with John. For the most part after John met Mary Jean he left Michelle alone and their daughter visited her father one weekend a month. John had always been fairly well about hiding things. Then, like Michelle, after several outbursts of events in which John’s charm smoothed things over, Mary Jean also had had enough, kicked John out and filed for divorce.
Just as Michelle did, Mary Jean obtained a protective order against John. And, just like Michelle, Mary Jean never imagined John would harm their children. Christmas of 1999 John came to Mary Jean’s house with his daughter with Michelle to pick up the girls. Against her better judgment Mary Jean allowed him in the house because the girls wanted to show him their gifts and decorations. While there John began attacking Mary Jean. Ultimately he left, not taking any of the children with him. Mary Jean filed charges against him. Just before they were to go to court John contacted Mary Jean and asked if they could sign the divorce papers the morning of court beforehand but at another location. Mary Jean really did not want to risk being late to court but she also wanted the divorce to be over. She went to where they were to meet only to find out that he had lied to her in attempts to make her late to court, to which she was. She got a message to the lawyers that she was on the way but the judge refused to wait. She was able to refile but ultimately John simply got two years of of probation after pleading guilty. He was still not to contact Mary Jean and lost visitation for 30 days with the girls but that was all. He repeatedly violated the order, just as he did when dealing with Michelle. Once was for testing positive for drugs and also by contacting Mary Jean.
By May 12, 2001 Mary Jean had filed charges against John more than two weeks before. Earlier that day there was finally a warrant made for John’s arrest. It was a day of visitation (for a 2 hour dinner) for him with Faith and Liberty. Earlier in the day John had gotten someone to contact Mary Jean to see if she was going to allow visitation (there’s no prove of his claims that she ever denied him) and that they would meet in their normal public place. He also became aware of the warrant for his arrest and talked to his probation officer as well as a detective. Both assured him that he would not be arrested that evening while with his children. However, he called the girls, on a phone line that was just for them, telling them that he would likely be arrested while he saw them that evening and that he likely would not see them for a year and that it was their mothers fault. Mary Jean assured them that he would not be arrested that night and that even if he were put in jail it would not be for a year. At this point neither girl was very interested in going to see their father but Mary Jean encouraged it and met him at the designated time and place.
A short time after dropping them off and going to a friends house Mary Jean received a phone call from her mother. John had contacted her asking that she get a hold of Mary Jean because the girls wanted to talk to her. Although she was not at home they had called Mary Jean’s home phone and left a message for her to call them back. When Mary Jean called back John answered and then turned on the speaker phone demanding to Faith, “ask her.” Through tears Faith asked Mary Jean why she wanted her Daddy to go to jail. Always trying to keep her children out of the middle of their problems, Mary Jean chastised John for putting the children in that position. Suddenly she heard Faith yelling “No, Daddy, please don’t” and Mary Jean heard several shots from a gun. Suddenly John came back to the phone and said “Merry Fucking Christmas.”
Rushing to his home Mary Jean called 911. She expected to get to John’s home and see several police officers but no one was there and she was scared to go to his loft apartment, not only for her own life, but for what she would find. Her call had not properly been handled. First it was to be transferred to another district since that was where John lived and secondly it was listed as a simple domestic issue and had a low priority. While outside John’s apartment building Mary Jean saw a police officer and flagged him down. He called for backup before entering the apartment. Once in they found the bodies of the girls each shot several times, with one shot through the head. They also found several firearms in the apartment. What they did not find was John. A man hunt was made for him. He was found several hours later intoxicated by alcohol and drugs coming out of a tattoo parlor in which he had gotten a tattoo of two roses, telling the woman who had gone with him it was to represent his daughters so he had them forever. The woman had no idea that John had killed his daughters.
John was ultimately convicted and currently sits on death row in Texas but the story does not end there. While in some areas by 2001 domestic violence was taken more serious than it had been in previous years, it still was not a high priority everywhere. Further, it was widely believed that while a father may be physically abusive to a mother that did not mean they were a danger to their children and there was no need for supervised visitation with the abusive spouse. Whether John has openly admitted it, I am not sure, but it is widely believed that this was solely done as an act of revenge against Mary Jean. This case proved that domestic violence and child visitation and custody need to be more closely watched and related. However, I must admit that in the recent case of Josh Powell, it was proven even those who are violent are capable of getting around even supervision.
John Battaglia tormented and abused both of his wives for many years. He never cared who was around, including his own children, when he abused them. He never batted an eye to bad mouth the mothers to his children. The courts allowed this behavior and in the end his children suffered the ultimately sacrifice.