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Texas Man Convicted of Killing Kids

April 25, 2002

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DALLAS (AP) _ The night she heard her ex-husband had killed his two young daughters from another marriage, Michelle Ghetti said she realized it could have been her own daughter.

``I just completely fell apart because I was so afraid he would do that to Christie. It had been my nightmare,″ Ghetti said. ``I knew he could do that.″

Ghetti testified for nearly three hours Wednesday in the punishment phase of John Battaglia’s capital murder trial. A jury took 19 minutes earlier in the day to convict the accountant in the shooting deaths of 9-year-old Faith and 6-year-old Liberty last May.

Prosecutors have said that Battaglia, 46, gunned down the girls in an act of ``ultimate revenge″ against their mother, his ex-wife Mary Jean Pearle. She was taking him to court for violating a protective order stemming from an assault conviction.

Battaglia could get life in prison or the death penalty.

Ghetti, who was married to Battaglia before Pearle, gave chilling testimony about being stalked, threatened and brutally beaten by him.

``You’re just a nervous wreck, scared,″ said Ghetti, who was married to Battaglia from 1985 to 1987. ``You didn’t know what to expect.″

The abusive behavior started when Ghetti was pregnant with their daughter, Christie, and escalated after they separated in September 1986, Ghetti testified.

Once barred from the house, Battaglia would tape Ghetti’s phone conversations, hide in bushes outside the house and jump in the garage when Ghetti came home, she said.

Ghetti said Battaglia once beat her in front of her daughter’s school.

``I’ll never forget, just a huge smile on his face,″ Ghetti testified. She said she remembers him saying, ``If I’m going back to jail, I’m going to make it well worth my while.″ She said he then punched her until she was unconscious, dislocating her jaw and breaking her nose.

The day the Battaglia children were killed, he left a message on Ghetti’s answering machine accusing her and Pearle of conspiring to put him back in jail and mentioning an acquaintance who recently lost custody of her children, according to Ghetti’s testimony.

``You know, maybe that’s what needs to happen to Mary Jean. Maybe she needs to lose her kids,″ Ghetti said Battaglia told her.

Defense attorney Paul Johnson said he planned to call several psychiatric experts and witnesses Thursday, including Pearle, as he tries to save his client from the death penalty.

Throughout the three-day trial, Johnson alluded to Battaglia’s mood swings and asked witnesses if they knew Battaglia suffered from a bipolar disorder.

``Never saw him depressed in the whole time I’ve known him,″ Ghetti said on the stand.

But according to Johnson, Ghetti said years ago that Battaglia was paranoid, lost control and seemed to panic under pressure.

Earlier in the day, Battaglia wept as prosecutors recounted the shootings in closing statements.

``This man, who those little girls looked to for love and protection and trust, took those weapons, put them to the back of each one of their heads as they are lying there crippled from those gunshot wounds to the spine, and he pulled the trigger,″ said prosecutor Keith Robinson.

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