Dallas County Court Finds John David Battaglia Mentally Competent To Be Executed

Battaglia's execution date remains Dec. 7

A judge has found convicted killer John David Battaglia mentally competent to be executed for murdering his two young daughters in 2001 as their mother listened on the phone, pleading for their lives to be spared.

The finding was revealed in a court document obtained Friday by NBC 5 News. In it, Dallas County Judge Robert Burns said Battaglia, 61, does understand that he is to be executed, that the execution is imminent and the reason for the execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that a prisoner can be executed if he or she is aware that the death penalty is set to be carried out and has a rational understanding of why he or she is facing that punishment.

Burns released the ruling Friday following a two-day hearing earlier this week held to determine Battaglia's competency.

Authorities said Battaglia killed the girls, ages 6 and 9, to get back at his ex-wife for lodging complaints with his parole officer that led to a warrant for his arrest.

Battaglia's execution date remains Dec. 7, but his attorneys can appeal the judge's decision which could cause a delay.

In the document, Burns added that Battaglia failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he is incompetent to be executed.

Three forensic psychologists testified that Battaglia suffered from a delusional disorder that makes him believe he did not kill his children. However, a fourth psychologist told the court Battaglia is competent for execution.

"He first insists he was not present at the time of his daughter's death and then he provides a possible excuse for why he might of been present, implying why he might of killed them," said Dr. James Womack. "He would have likely maintained his position that he was not there at the time of the murders and argue any evidence law enforcement had, would have been fabricated."

Womack believed Battaglia could be faking symptoms of delusional disorder.

In the document, Burns said the court believes Battaglia is feigning or exaggerating his symptoms of mental illness and that he is an atypical inmate who is "highly intelligent, educated and well-read."

The court referenced a phone call with his father, who is also named John Battaglia, where the defendant said, "I'm doing the best I can, alright. They're going to kill me December 7, OK, no matter what.  So whatever I do I'm gonna [sic] try to keep that from happening. I can't sit here and just do nothing. That's how everybody else gets killed. It's a damn chess game."

The court found that "if Battaglia does have a severe mental illness, it does not rise to the level that it interferes with his rational understanding of the reason for his execution."

A federal appeals court stopped Battaglia's scheduled lethal injection March 30 so the competency questions could be reviewed.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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