Last-minute appeals fail to stop John Battaglia's execution

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The Dallas man convicted of killing his two daughters in 2001 was executed by the state of Texas Thursday night after last-minute appeals failed to stop it.

John Battaglia was on death row for nearly two decades ever since he murdered his two young daughters while their mother begged for their lives over the phone.

Prison officials took Battaglia to the Huntsville Unit just after lunch ahead of his scheduled execution Thursday afternoon.

Officials say he was nervous and was holding on to hope one of his appeals went through.

Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark recently spoke with Battaglia. Before his execution, they went over what his final moments were going to be like.

“I would say he was, all things considered, in good spirits,” Clark said. “He was talkative, wanted to know where his appeals were at in the courts and was interested in using the telephone.”

It's been nearly 17 years since Battaglia's rise to infamy. When he was 45 years old, the Highland Park accountant murdered his daughters, 9-year-old Faith and 6-year-old Liberty. Their mother, Mary Jean Pearle, listened on the phone. She had been trying to have him arrested for violating probation for assaulting her.

Howard Blackmon was lead prosecutor on the case.

“I think the notoriety of the case revolves around the day doing that when he had the girls call the mom up on the phone so she could hear them screaming and so she could hear the gunshots,” Blackmon said.

Years after she heard those gunshots, Pearle witnessed Battaglia's execution. It was a stark departure to what she said during his trial in 2002.

“I would like to say the next time you see me is when they put the needle in your arm,” she told him. “But I'm not going to waste the time to be there.”

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier in the day rejected an appeal that argued a lower court improperly refused his lawyers money to hire an expert to further examine legal claims of his mental competency.

The Supreme Court has ruled that prisoners can be executed if they're aware the death penalty is to be carried out and have a rational understanding of why they're facing that punishment.

Attorneys for Battaglia contended he didn't have that understanding and that the state's highest court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, misapplied the Supreme Court's guidance when it ruled that Battaglia is competent.

State attorneys said the courts ensured proper legal standards were followed and that Battaglia had been provided expert help and a court hearing in accordance with Supreme Court precedents.

Another unsuccessful appeal challenged the effectiveness of the pentobarbital Texas uses as its execution drug.  Attorneys contended the state's supply was outdated and Battaglia was at risk for unconstitutionally cruel punishment.

A state judge and the state appeals court described Battaglia as highly intelligent, competent, not mentally ill and faking mental illness to avoid execution.

The execution was scheduled to start at 6 p.m, but state officials had to wait for rulings on the last-minute appeals. He was executed at 9:40 p.m.

When asked if he wanted to make a final statement, Battaglia said, "No. Well, hi Mary Jean. See Y'all later. Go ahead please."

Battaglia was the state's third execution of the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.