Appeals court halts execution for dad who killed daughters

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2016 5:14 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — An appeals court on Friday stayed the execution of a Dallas man so it can review if he's mentally competent to be put to death for fatally shooting his two young daughters more than 15 years ago while their mother listened helplessly over the phone.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals delayed the Dec. 7 execution of John David Battaglia after his attorney had appealed a judge's ruling last month that he's mentally competent for execution.

The Austin appeals court has asked Battaglia's attorney and prosecutors to submit briefs on the competency issue within 60 days.

Battaglia's attorney, Michael Mowla, declined to comment Friday.

Christine Womble, a prosecutor handling the case for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Battaglia was convicted of killing his daughters, ages 6 and 9, at his Dallas apartment in May 2001. Authorities said he killed the girls to get back at his ex-wife, who was their mother, for lodging complaints with his parole officer that led to a warrant for his arrest.

Battaglia, 61, was due to be executed March 30, but a federal appeals court halted it so that his competency could be reviewed.

After a two-day hearing held last month in Dallas, state District Judge Robert Burns determined that Battaglia was mentally competent enough to be executed. He ruled Battaglia was faking delusions that could make him ineligible for the death penalty under U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

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.

In court documents, Mowla had said that Burns' ruling was "unsupported and incorrect."

Dallas County prosecutors have argued that Battaglia has received "all of the due process for which he is entitled" under Texas and federal laws.