BY MATT DERINGER
Uptown accountant John Battaglia remained in jail at Lew Sterrett Justice Center at mid-week on two counts of capital murder for last week’s slayings of his 6- and 9-year-old daughters, Liberty Mae and Mary “Faith” Battaglia, at his residence in Deep Ellum.
He is held under $3 million in bond — with $1 million of it stipulated in cash.
Capital murder is punishable in Texas by death by lethal injection.
Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill did not initially say whether his office will seek the death penalty, but sources familiar with the case said it is likely.
A source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the only way for Battaglia to avoid being sentenced to death is to plead guilty or try to win an insanity plea.
Thus far in his defense, Battaglia’s court-appointed attorney, Paul Johnson, has been quoted only as saying that “false allegations” are being made against his client.
Battaglia is accused of shooting daughters Liberty and Faith to death after taking them out to dinner May 2 and while on the phone with ex-wife, and current Highland Park resident, Mary Jean Pearle, from his fourth-floor loft apartment in Deep Ellum.
According to Dallas Police Department officials, Battaglia, 45, and Pearle, 38, were arguing over the phone around 7:30 p.m. May 2 when Battaglia put daughter Faith on the phone. The 9-year-old asked Pearle, “Why are you trying to have Daddy arrested?”
Pearle then heard 6-year-old Liberty scream, “No, Daddy, no!” police related, as gunshots rang out in the background.
Dallas County Medical Examiner’s officials said earlier this week that the girls died of multiple gunshot wounds, with sources confirming that each was shot from point-blank range.
Police are not disclosing what kind or caliber of gun Battaglia is suspected of using against his daughters in the shootings. Police department sources said that a collection of weapons was found upon their arrival the night of the murders at Battaglia’s residence in Deep Ellum.
At issue is whether Battaglia was under the influence of alcohol when he was alleged to have shot the girls, and whether his actions May 2 were premeditated. A joint Dallas Police Department and Highland Park PD investigation into the double homicide is ongoing.
Battaglia’s record of domestic violence began a month after his first marriage ended, in August 1987, when he assaulted his first ex-wife — and mother of his first child, also a daughter — knocking her unconscious, breaking her nose and dislocating her jaw. Battaglia was convicted of and completed a year of probation for the assault.
Records show Battaglia’s divorce from Pearle, a resident of Highland Park, was finalized last August. It ended an acrimonious marriage that included a Christmas Day 1999 assault in which Battaglia knocked Pearle to the floor and kicked her repeatedly in front of daughter Faith at the family’s home in the 4300 block of Lorraine Avenue in Highland Park.
Battaglia was charged with two counts of assault in the incident — he was convicted on one, receiving two years probation and a $1,000 fine; the other was dismissed — and records indicate Pearle sought protective orders against him and limited visitation for him with the couple’s two daughters thereafter.
Highland Park police reports show that Pearle complained several times since then that Battaglia violated the protective orders she ensuingly sought against him, and sources said that Pearle was put in enough fear of Battaglia that she would agree to meet with him only in public places — such as last week, when she dropped Faith and Liberty off with their father at Highland Park Village — and not in or around her home.
Under Texas law, sources explained, a parent convicted of domestic assault is nonetheless entitled to visitation with his children — unless that assault was committed against one of those children.
So while Pearle could not keep Battaglia from visiting with their children, her complaint of another harassing phone call from him prompted Highland Park Police to obtain an arrest warrant for Battaglia April 17. However, the warrant was neither executed by police nor filed with the Dallas County district attorney until May 1.
As a result of its filing, along with Battaglia’s not reporting to his probation officer during the year and a half since assaulting Pearle or paying $900 in restitution and court fee, Dallas County prosecutors were processing a motion to revoke probation and arrest him the afternoon of May 2 — hours before Battaglia was arrested for the murders.
Dallas police eventually caught up to Battaglia around 2 a.m. Thursday, about six and a half hours after Pearle phoned Highland Park police to report his shooting their daughters.
HP police had contacted DPD officers, who responded to the Deep Ellum apartment where Battaglia lived to find Pearle there and the girls shot to death upstairs.
Dallas police reported spotting Battaglia’s car parked outside a neighborhood restaurant and setting up surveillance around midnight.
About two hours later, police said, Battaglia walked out of a nearby tattoo parlor — where he had gotten two roses strung in barbed wire inked into his left arm — to get a pack of cigarettes out of his truck, and was arrested.
Battaglia, reported to be legally intoxicated at the time, physically resisted officers and was taken into custody after suffering several blows to the right side of his face.
Battaglia was then taken to Lew Sterrett, where he was booked by Dallas County Sheriff’s officials and has stayed — and is expected to stay — since arraignment.
Meanwhile, funeral services for both Faith and Liberty Battaglia were held May 5 at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Dallas.
Faith, a third-grader at Bradfield Elementary in Highland Park, had played the violin for three years and earned a blue belt in karate. She also is said to have loved dogs and cats.
Liberty, a kindergartner at Bradfield, had been a “Prima Ballerina” for three years at City Ballet, and took violin lessons with her sister.
Memorials in the girls’ names are asked to be made to SPCA of Texas or Genesis Women’s Outreach.
Editor's Note: This story appeared in Park Cities People on May 10, 2001.