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Juan Ignacio Blanco

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John David BATTAGLIA

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Revenge - The mother of the children was on the phone at the time of the offense and heard the gunshots
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: May 2, 2001
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: August 2, 1955
Victims profile: His two daughters, Faith, 9, and Liberty, 6
Method of murder: Shooting
LocationDallas County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on May 1, 2002
 
 

 
 
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Name

TDCJ Number

Date of Birth

Battaglia, John David

999412

08/02/1955

Date Received

Age (when Received)

Education Level

05/01/2002

46

12

Date of Offense

Age (at the Offense)

County

05/02/2001

45

Dallas

Race

Gender

Hair Color

white

male

grey

Height

Weight

Eye Color

6 ft 0 in

188

green

Native County

Native State

Prior Occupation

Dallas

Texas

computer software, accounting, laborer

Prior Prison Record

None

Summary of incident


On May 12, 2001, Battaglia shot and killed his two daughters, ages 6 and 9.  The mother of the children was on the phone with the 9 year old daughter at the time of the offense and heard the gunshots.
 

Co-defendants

None.

Race and Gender of Victim

two white females

 
 

 
 

Battaglia sentenced to die for killing girls

Jury discounts bipolar illness; 'burn in hell,' ex-wife tells him

By Steve McGonigle - The Dallas Morning News

05/01/2002

John David Battaglia was sentenced to death Tuesday after a Dallas jury rejected defense arguments that his bipolar illness should lessen his punishment for murdering his two daughters.

Mr. Battaglia, 46, showed no reaction to the verdict or to an emotional statement read by his former wife Mary Jean Pearle in which she wished him to "burn in hell forever" for the slayings of Faith, 9, and Liberty, 6.

"You are one of the most heinous murderers of modern time," Mary Jean Pearle told ex-husband John Battaglia in court Tuesday after the jury sentenced him to death. "Hitler didn't kill his own children. [Jeffrey] Dahmer didn't kill his own children."

Ms. Pearle, 39, vowed to spend the rest of her life helping others escape domestic violence and told Mr. Battaglia to forget about her.

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

Mr. Battaglia, who spoke only once during the weeklong trial to proclaim his love for his daughters, waved to his father and stepmother as he was led from the courtroom by bailiffs.

His father, also named John, told reporters that the loss of his granddaughters had been compounded by the loss of his son.

"No matter what they think or say, he's still my son, and I still love him," he said.

The jury reached its decision after hearing four days of testimony in the trial's punishment phase, which centered on whether Mr. Battaglia was suffering from a bipolar disorder when he shot his daughters to death in his Deep Ellum apartment.

After deliberating 6 hours, the jury of seven men and five women concluded that it had heard no evidence warranting a life sentence. Jurors also concluded that Mr. Battaglia would be a continuing threat to society.

Jurors left the courtroom without talking to reporters after state District Judge Janice Warder sentenced Mr. Battaglia to death.

His sentence came two days short of the first anniversary of the death of his daughters, who were shot despite pleas for mercy while their mother listened over a speakerphone.

At the time of the shootings, Mr. Battaglia thought he was about to be arrested for violating probation on a domestic violence charge. Witnesses said Mr. Battaglia blamed Ms. Pearle for his predicament.

Ms. Pearle testified that Mr. Battaglia had told his daughters that he might be arrested when he picked them up for their weekly visit. The girls were apprehensive about seeing their father, Ms. Pearle said.

"Liberty hid under her bed, not wanting to go to dinner with you that Wednesday night," Ms. Pearle read from her victim statement. "But I said, 'Oh, it will be OK.' I trusted you with their lives."

Prosecutors described Mr. Battaglia as an angry, vindictive man with a long history of violence toward his spouses. The murders were "the ultimate act of revenge" and showed that Mr. Battaglia had no conscience, they said.

"These facts cannot get any clearer," Assistant District Attorney Pat Kirlin said in closing arguments. "If a man can do this and use his kids as pawns to get at his ex-wife, he can do anything."

Lead prosecutor Howard Blackmon said after the sentencing that he agreed with the jury.

"I think they came to the right decision based on the horrific nature of this crime," he said.

Mr. Battaglia's defense attorneys asked the jury to sentence their client to life in prison because, they contended, there was conclusive psychiatric evidence that the murders would not have occurred if not for his bipolar condition.

"You can't punish a person who is mentally ill the same way you would a person who is not," defense attorney Paul Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson noted that three psychiatrists, including one appointed to examine Mr. Battaglia by Judge Warder, agreed that Mr. Battaglia would not be a threat to society if he received proper medication.

Mr. Johnson said he was not surprised by the jury's verdict.

"I think we put up for this case and for this evidence about as good a defense [as possible]," he said. "It's obvious the jury took the time to consider the issues."

Mr. Johnson told jurors that sending Mr. Battaglia to prison for life would be worse than a death sentence, but he said Mr. Battaglia prepared himself long ago for being sent to death row.

"John made peace with himself over what happened several months ago," Mr. Johnson said. "John would rather die than live day for day with what happened."

He called the case "a tragedy for all involved, including the defendant."

Under state law, the sentence must be automatically appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin. Judge Warder said she was appointing an attorney to handle the appeal.


Father charged in two daughters' fatal shootings at loft apartment

By Joel Anderson - Associated Press Writer

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Thursday, May 3, 2001

DALLAS An accountant was charged Thursday with shooting his two young daughters to death as he argued on the telephone with his ex-wife.

John David Battaglia, 45, was booked into Lew Sterrett Justice Center on two counts of capital murder, Dallas County sheriff's officers said.

Liberty Battaglia, 6, and Faith Battaglia, 9, were found slain in a pool of blood inside the man's downtown-area loft. Police who had sought Battaglia for questioning in the fatal shootings also detained an unidentified female friend early Thursday.

The case began unfolding Wednesday, when Battaglia contacted his former mother-in-law, saying he needed to reach his ex-wife.

"He called my house and said he had to ask ... a question," Dorrace Pearle said. "She phoned him to see what it was."

Mary Jean Pearle, the girls' mother, was arguing with Battaglia by telephone from her home in the North Dallas suburb of Highland Park when she heard five shots fired about 7:30 p.m.

Pearle heard one of the girls say, "No, Daddy, no, Daddy, no," before the mother heard gunshots, a relative said.

Highland Park police tipped Dallas officers, who broke into Battaglia's loft apartment Wednesday night and found the girls slain amid half-unpacked boxes and numerous guns and rifles. The bodies were taken to the Dallas County medical examiner's office for autopsies.

Investigators removed seven rifles from the loft. They said they did not immediately know which weapon, if any, had been used in the shootings.

Witnesses told police that Battaglia was seen leaving the complex in a black extended-cab pickup truck. Douglas Cartmel said he saw the pickup leave and later saw the mother arrive.

"She was crying and freaking out," Cartmel said. "She looked in really bad shape."

Officers staking out nightclubs in the Deep Ellum entertainment district several blocks from the lofts spotted a truck that matched the description of Battaglia's vehicle shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday. The driver was apprehended after a short struggle.

"I would consider this strange," Sgt. David Graham said. "It's surprising that he would have been located so close to the crime scene."

The children had lived in Highland Park with their mother following a divorce about a year ago, Dorrace Pearle said.

Battaglia has a previous criminal history, according to Dallas County legal records. He was charged with two counts of assault for a Christmas Day 1999 incident, receiving a sentence of two years' probation and a $1,000 fine on one count, according to court records.

The grandmother said Battaglia had beaten her daughter on that date. Mary Jean Pearle was so afraid of her husband after the reported attack that she tried to limit contact with him, her mother said.

Each Wednesday, Mary Jean Pearle took her daughters to a shopping center, where Battaglia picked them up for dinner, the grandmother said.

The younger daughters were described as good students at Bradfield Elementary School in Highland Park. The grandmother said Liberty was involved in ballet, while Faith played the violin.

"They were beautiful, perfect little children," Dorrace Pearle told The Dallas Morning News Wednesday. "We're just heartbroken."

The school district dispatched about a half dozen psychologists and eight counselors to Bradfield Elementary on Thursday to meet with distraught parents and pupils. Parents also were handed information about helping their children deal with crises and death.

"Our counseling staff tells us that the best thing for young children is to go about their routine, but to continue to provide a loving, supportive environment," school district spokeswoman Linda Adkins said.

At the start of classes, teachers read a brief statement: "I am very sad to tell you that two of our students, Liberty and Faith Battaglia, died last night. We have wonderful memories of our friends and the best thing we can do today is to be kind to each other and be the very best person we can be."


In the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas

No. AP-74,348

John David Battaglia, Appellant
V.
The State of Texas

On Direct Appeal from Criminal District Court Dallas County

Cochran, J., delivered the opinion of the unanimous Court.

O P I N I O N

Appellant was convicted in April 2002 of capital murder for the shooting deaths of his two young daughters. (1) Pursuant to the jury's answers to the special issues at the punishment stage, (2) the trial judge sentenced appellant to death. (3) Direct appeal to this Court is automatic. (4) Appellant raises twenty-one points of error, including a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence at punishment. We affirm.

I.

Factual Background

Mary Jean Pearl was married to appellant for nine years, from 1991 to 2000. They had two daughters, Mary Faith, who was born in January 1992, and Liberty, who was born in January 1995. Throughout their marriage, appellant was verbally abusive toward Ms.

Pearl, and she filed for divorce when she became afraid that appellant would be physically violent. On Christmas morning 1999, before the divorce was final but during the couple's separation, appellant went to Ms. Pearl's house to pick up the girls for church. Appellant became angry at Ms. Pearl and attacked and beat her in front of the children. As a result of that incident, appellant was charged with assault and placed on probation.

Appellant's and Ms. Pearl's divorce was final in August 2000. An Agreed Protective Order was issued at that time which prohibited appellant from committing family violence against Ms. Pearl or their daughters, and from stalking, threatening, or harassing them. The order also prohibited appellant from possessing a firearm.

Around Easter 2001, Ms. Pearl received a phone message from appellant in which he angrily swore at her and called her names. She reported the call to appellant's probation officer, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Appellant learned that his case was being considered for a probation revocation and on Wednesday, May 2, 2001, he found out that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. He was assured by a police officer that the warrant would not be executed in front of his children and that he could make arrangements with his lawyer to peacefully turn himself in.

Appellant had plans to have dinner with his daughters that evening. While making plans on the phone about where to eat, appellant told the girls that he was not very hungry because he might be arrested that night and would not see them again for a year or more. Ms. Pearl dropped the girls off with appellant at the agreed meeting place and then went to a friend's house. When she arrived, she received a message that the girls had called and wanted to ask her something. Ms. Pearl dialed appellant's phone number. Appellant answered the phone, which was on the speaker-phone function, and ordered Mary Faith to "ask her." Mary Faith said, "Mommy, why do you want Daddy to go to jail?" Ms. Pearl began to tell appellant not to do this to the girls, and then she heard Mary Faith say, "No, daddy, please don't, don't do it." Ms. Pearl yelled into the phone, "Run, run for the door." She heard gunshots, and appellant scream, "Merry fucking Christmas." After hearing more gunshots, Ms. Pearl hung up and called 911.

The police discovered the girls' bodies in appellant's apartment. Nine-year-old Mary Faith had three gunshot wounds, including a shot to her back which severed her spinal cord and ruptured her aorta, a contact shot to the back of her head which exited her forehead, and a shot to her shoulder. Either of the first two shots would have been rapidly fatal.

Six-year-old Liberty had four gunshot wounds and a graze wound to the top of her head. One shot entered her back, severed her spinal cord, went through a lung, and lodged in her chest. After losing about one third of her blood, she received a contact shot to her head which passed through her brain, exited her face, and was immediately fatal.

The girls were shot with a semiautomatic pistol which was found near the kitchen phone. Mary Faith's body was found by the phone in the kitchen. Liberty's body was found ten to fifteen feet from the front door.

After shooting his daughters, appellant went with a girlfriend to a bar and then to a tattoo parlor where he got tattoos related to his daughters. Appellant was arrested next to his truck outside the tattoo parlor. It took four officers to restrain and handcuff him. Officers took a fully loaded revolver from appellant's truck after his arrest.

Police recovered two rifles, three shotguns, and a pistol (in addition to the murder weapon) from appellant's apartment. The morning after the offense, police retrieved an answering machine from Ms. Pearl's house. There were two messages from Mary Faith stating that they had a question and asking Ms. Pearl to call them back. There was also a message from appellant, left after the murders, in which he told the girls goodnight, stated that he hoped they were resting in a different place, that he loved them and that they were very brave, and that he wished they had nothing to do with their mother, that she was "evil and vicious and stupid."

During the punishment phase, the jury heard evidence about appellant's violent relationship with his first wife. Michelle Gheddi was married to appellant for two years, from 1985 to 1987, and they had a daughter, Kristy. Ms. Gheddi described several incidents during her marriage when appellant became angry and struck or threatened her. Twice appellant was physically violent toward Ms. Gheddi's son from a previous marriage. Once when Ms. Gheddi was traveling with appellant in the car, he became angry at some other motorists and tried to reach for a gun he had in the car. They separated after an incident in which appellant struck Ms. Gheddi while she was holding Kristy, causing her to drop the child.

Ms. Gheddi obtained a protective order against appellant. Nonetheless, appellant came to her house, watched her through the windows, and pounded on her doors and windows. He followed her in his car. He tapped her phone line. He constantly called her house and office at all hours of the day and night. He called Ms. Gheddi's employers and creditors and made false statements about her. He threatened to kill himself and her, and once described to her in detail how he planned to cut her up and kill her with a knife. One night Ms. Gheddi woke up sometime after midnight to find appellant standing over her bed and holding her shoulders down. He wanted to have sex, but Ms. Gheddi refused. Ms. Gheddi filed a police report about the incident.

A short time later, appellant called a partner at the law firm where Ms. Gheddi was an attorney. Appellant told him that Ms. Gheddi was having an affair with another partner in the firm and that she was carrying his child. Appellant threatened to go to the press with the information unless the partner convinced Ms. Gheddi to drop the charges against him. As a result of these events, the law firm initiated security measures to deny appellant access to their offices.

In January of 1987, appellant tried to force Ms. Gheddi's car onto the median of the freeway. Appellant pulled up next to her and pointed his finger at her as if holding a gun. He then threw a rock through his open window at her car. Ms. Gheddi filed another police report, and appellant was arrested. Appellant spent several days in jail. When he was released, he stopped harassing Ms. Gheddi and apologized for his behavior. Things improved for a few months, and appellant and Ms. Gheddi were able to work out a divorce agreement. However, appellant eventually became volatile again and angrily hit Ms. Gheddi while he was picking up their daughter. After having been hit by appellant on one occasion and pushed down the front steps to her house on another, Ms. Gheddi again filed charges against him. Appellant begged her to drop the charges, but she refused. Later that day, appellant approached Ms. Gheddi outside of her son's school. Smiling as he came toward her, appellant said, "If I'm going back to jail, I'm going to make it worth my while." He then beat Ms. Gheddi until she lost consciousness, breaking her nose and dislocating her jaw. Ms. Gheddi was hospitalized. After appellant threatened to do the same to Ms. Gheddi's son, she moved to Louisiana.

About noon on the day that Mary Faith and Liberty were killed, Ms. Gheddi got a message on her answering machine from appellant in which he stated that maybe Ms. Pearl should lose her kids. That evening, appellant called Ms. Gheddi's house again and left a message for Kristy. He told her he was sending her college money in an envelope and that she should invest it wisely. An hour after that call, Ms. Gheddi found out that appellant had killed Mary Faith and Liberty. Ms. Gheddi stated that she had always been afraid that appellant would hurt Kristy.

The defense called a forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Judy Stonedale, who testified that appellant had suffered from bipolar disorder since his mid-to-late twenties. Dr. Stonedale also testified that some people with bipolar disorder have psychotic episodes and lose touch with reality. She believed that appellant was experiencing a psychotic episode at the time he killed his daughters. Dr. Stonedale stated that bipolar disorder is treatable with medication, and that appellant has been much better since taking medication in jail. She concluded that appellant would not be a future danger if given a life sentence because he would be medicated and in a controlled environment. On cross-examination, Dr. Stonedale stated that bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance, not organic brain damage. She also agreed that, at the time of the murders, appellant knew what he was doing.

Dr. Edward Brown Gripon, another forensic psychiatrist, was appointed by the court to evaluate appellant on the issues of sanity and competency. Dr. Gripon also diagnosed appellant with bipolar disorder. He concluded that appellant would present a low risk of continued acts of criminal violence. On cross-examination by the State, Dr. Gripon agreed that appellant knew what he was doing at the time he murdered his children and recognized that it was wrong.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard E. Coons testified for the State on rebuttal. Dr. Coons concluded that appellant killed his children as an act of anger and retribution, to punish Ms. Pearl. Although Dr. Coons agreed with the other psychiatrists who had testified that appellant probably has bipolar disorder, he believed appellant has a milder form of it than the other two had opined. Dr. Coons stated that appellant has Bipolar II disorder rather than Bipolar I. Bipolar I is characterized by extremely manic behavior, while those with a Bipolar II disorder have hypomanic, or below manic, episodes which do not interfere with their functioning. Dr. Coons further testified that appellant's conscience would not keep him from committing offenses in the future because "[h]is conscious [sic] didn't keep him from committing the instant offense." He also had concerns about whether appellant would remain on his medication in jail because appellant liked the manic states he experienced without the medication. Dr. Coons stated that appellant exhibited a number of characteristics of a person with antisocial personality disorder and that appellant rationalized and blamed others for his actions.

Appellant rebutted Dr. Coons' testimony by calling yet another forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Jay Douglas Crowder. Dr. Crowder concluded that appellant had "immature personality disorder," a substance-abuse disorder which was in remission due to his confinement, and "bipolar mood disorder type I." According to Dr. Crowder, appellant's mental illness was a contributing factor in his commission of the offense. Dr. Crowder stated that if appellant had been under treatment and receiving medication for his illness at the time, he would not have committed the offense. Dr. Crowder believed that appellant would not present a future danger based on his age, his intelligence, the controlled environment in prison, the fact that he was on mood-stabilizing medication in prison, and the fact that the type of victim that appellant had tended to harm would not be found in prison. On cross-examination, Dr. Crowder stated that, when appellant killed his children, he made a decision to do it and he knew the wrongfulness of his actions.

II.

A. Challenges to the Sufficiency of the Evidence

In point of error nine, appellant claims the evidence is legally insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he would probably commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society. Appellant argues the evidence does not support such a finding because he would not be eligible for parole until he is eighty-five years old, and there is a very low likelihood that he would injure others in prison. Appellant also claims that the State failed to show any connection between the manner in which the crime was committed and the propensity for appellant to be a danger in the future. Appellant relies heavily upon his experts' opinion testimony that he suffered from bipolar mood disorder, immature personality disorder, and substance abuse disorder. According to these witnesses, appellant's future conduct would not constitute a threat in prison because his prior violent acts were crimes of passion and were usually committed while he was in a delusional or psychotic state.

In reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence on future dangerousness, we look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have believed beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant would probably commit future criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society. (5) The circumstances of the offense alone, if sufficiently cold-blooded or calculated, may support an affirmative answer to the first special issue. (6) Other evidence, such as a prior criminal record, prior bad acts and uncharged conduct, psychiatric evidence, and character evidence, also may support the finding. (7)

The evidence is legally sufficient to support the jury's affirmative finding on the first special issue. The offense itself was particularly horrific, calculated, and cold-blooded. The evidence supports a conclusion that appellant crippled each of his daughters with gunshot wounds that severed their spines, and then held the gun against their heads and shot them again. There is evidence that appellant planned the killings in advance as an act of revenge toward Ms. Pearl, and that he manipulated the situation so that he could commit the murders as Ms. Pearl listened helplessly on the phone. The jury's "future dangerousness" finding is also supported by the evidence of appellant's assaultive, abusive, and threatening conduct toward both of his ex-wives over the years, as well as the assaults and threats towards Ms. Gheddi's seven-year-old son. The testimony at trial showed a pattern of increasingly violent conduct toward those who angered or annoyed him. (8) Some of the expert testimony also supports the affirmative finding. Dr. Coons testified that, in his opinion, appellant committed the offense as an act of revenge; he lacked a conscience that helped him conform his conduct; and there was no guarantee that appellant would continue to take his medication in prison. There is ample evidence to support the jury's affirmative finding on the future dangerousness issue. Point of error nine is overruled.

In his tenth point of error, appellant contends the evidence is factually insufficient to support the jury's finding that appellant would be a future danger. For the reasons set out in McGinn v. State, (9) we do not conduct a factual sufficiency review of this special issue. (10) Point of error ten is overruled.

B. Claims Relating to Jury Selection

In points of error one through seven, appellant contends that his effective assistance of counsel and due process rights were violated by the trial court's denial of his challenges for cause against seven different venirepersons because each had formed an opinion as to appellant's guilt that prevented them from being impartial. A venireperson who has formed an opinion about guilt or punishment based upon exposure to pretrial publicity is not challengeable for cause if he states that: he can put that opinion aside; it will not influence his verdict; and he will base his verdict solely on the law and facts presented at trial. (11) The sole question for determination is whether a juror can put aside prior knowledge and opinion and render an impartial verdict. (12)

We have reviewed the voir dire of each of the seven complained-of venirepersons. While all seven stated that they had formed an opinion about appellant's guilt based upon the pretrial publicity, all seven unequivocally stated that they could put those opinions aside and base a verdict solely on the law and evidence presented at trial. Appellant also alleges, in point of error five, that one particular venireperson, Steven Crimson, had formed an opinion that appellant should receive the death penalty. Despite having formed that opinion based upon publicity, Mr. Crimson stated that he could put that opinion aside, be open-minded, and listen to all of the evidence before making a decision about the appropriate punishment.

Thus, all of the venirepersons at issue stated that they could put aside their prior knowledge and opinion and render an impartial verdict. (13) The trial judge was in the best position to gauge the demeanor and sincerity of these prospective jurors. For most of these challenges, the trial judge made extensive findings, on the record, summarizing the venireperson's answers and putting those answers in context. Based upon this record, we conclude that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in denying appellant's challenges for cause. Appellant's constitutional rights were not violated by the trial court's rulings. (14) Points of error one through seven are overruled.

In point of error eight, appellant claims that the trial court violated his rights by granting the State's challenge for cause which was made on the ground that venireperson Eric Aemisegger had foreclosed the possibility of the State being able to prove future dangerousness in a prison society. Although appellant alleges that the error violated his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, in Jones v. State, (15) this Court held that "the constitutional right to trial by an impartial jury is not violated by every error in the selection of a jury." (16) Instead, it is "[o]nly in very limited circumstances, when a juror is erroneously excused because of general opposition to the death penalty ("Witherspoon" error)," that "the exclusion of a juror by an unintentional mistake amount[s] to a constitutional violation." (17) Mr. Aemisegger was not excused because of his opposition to the death penalty. Thus, any error here was nonconstitutional. (18)

Appellant does not allege that he was harmed, but rather urges this Court to overrule Jones, which held that the "erroneous excusing of a veniremember will call for reversal only if the record shows that the error deprived the defendant of a lawfully constituted jury." (19) We decline to overrule Jones. Even assuming that the trial court erred in granting the State's challenge for cause to Mr. Aemisegger, appellant has made no showing that the error deprived him of a lawfully constituted jury. (20) Point of error eight is overruled.

C. Evidentiary Claims

In point of error eleven, appellant complains of the admission of extraneous-act evidence at the guilt phase. Specifically, he points to the following evidence as improperly admitted: (1) evidence of appellant's December 1999 assault on Ms. Pearl, for which he received probation; (2) evidence that appellant was in possession of multiple firearms at the time of the murders; (3) evidence that appellant violated Ms. Pearl's protective order; and (4) evidence of other assaultive and abusive behavior toward Ms. Pearl during the course of their marriage. Appellant argues that this evidence did not tend to show his motive to kill his children and was not relevant. Even if it were relevant, appellant contends, its probative value was substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect.

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is generally inadmissible at the guilt phase, but Rule of Evidence 404(b) allows such evidence if it has relevance apart from character conformity. (21) For example, evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts may be admissible to prove identity or intent, to establish motive, or to show opportunity or preparation. (22) The admissibility of evidence, including extraneous-act evidence offered for a purpose other than character conformity under Rule 404(b), is within the trial court's discretion. As long as the trial court's ruling was within the zone of reasonable disagreement, the reviewing court should affirm. (23) A trial court's decision to admit evidence, finding that its probative value is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, is also given deference. (24)

The trial court admitted the extraneous-acts evidence to show motive. The State's theory of the case was that appellant committed the murders as an act of vengeance against Ms. Pearl, whose report to the police had led to a motion to revoke appellant's probation. Evidence of one's motive to commit a crime is always relevant under Rules 401 and 404(b). (25) The motive evidence in this case was, in fact, not particularly probative of a disputed issue because the overwhelming evidence supported appellant's guilt. For the same reason, however, admission of evidence showing appellant's motive for committing the murders was not prejudicial on the issue of guilt. The trial court's decision to allow the evidence was clearly within the zone of reasonable disagreement. There was no abuse of discretion. Point of error eleven is overruled.

In point of error twelve, appellant claims that the trial court erred by admitting, at the guilt stage, evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search and seizure, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In his thirteenth point of error, appellant makes the same claim under Article I, section 9, of the Texas Constitution. Because appellant provides no separate argument or authority for his state constitutional claim, we do not address it. (26)

The trial court held a pretrial hearing on appellant's motion to suppress. Dallas Police Officer Dane Thornton testified that he was on duty and driving on Canton Street on the evening of May 2, 2001, when a woman who was "quite frantic" approached him. The woman, later identified as Ms. Pearl, told Officer Thornton that she had been on the phone with her children who were at her ex-husband's apartment when she heard them holler, "No daddy, no," and she then heard five gunshots. Ms. Pearl told Officer Thornton that they were standing in front of her ex-husband's apartment building, and told him the apartment number. Officer Thornton testified that, from what Ms. Pearl told him, he believed a shooting "was still happening or had just finished occurring."

As Officer Thornton got out of his car, two other officers, who had been dispatched to the scene, pulled up. All three officers entered the building and went up to appellant's apartment on the fourth floor. Officer Thornton took the elevator, and the other two officers took the stairs. They knocked and announced themselves, but got no response. Officer Thornton testified that he went back downstairs to see if Ms. Pearl had a key because the doors were the "commercial wooden" type which would not kick in very easily. (27) Ms. Pearl did not have a key, and there was no apartment manager or maintenance personnel readily available to open the door. A resident of the complex who was in the foyer told Officer Thornton that he had not heard any shots or seen anyone leave the building. Officer Thornton testified that he was downstairs looking for a key for about a minute before he returned to appellant's apartment.

The officers decided to kick the door in because they believed the shooting had just occurred, and they were concerned that the girls might be injured. It took three tries to force the door open. Once inside, the officers saw the younger girl lying face down. She appeared to be injured or dead. They found the older girl on the kitchen floor. She, too, appeared to be injured or dead. The officers then did a sweep of the rest of the apartment, including closets, to see if appellant was still inside. The officers saw several guns in the closets. They also saw a handgun on a night stand near the body of the younger girl and another handgun on the kitchen counter near the body of the older child. After determining that the girls were dead and appellant was not inside the apartment, an officer was posted at the door to secure the scene.

Dallas Police Officer Zane Murray testified that he and his partner were dispatched to the scene based on a report that a mother believed her children had been shot. When Officer Murray and his partner arrived, they spoke briefly with Officer Thornton, and then the three officers went to the apartment. They did not speak with Ms. Pearl because their immediate focus was on getting to the apartment where the girls might have been shot. According to Officer Murray, when they received no answer at the door, Officer Thornton went back downstairs to verify that Ms. Pearl had heard gunshots on the phone. In the meantime, Officer Murray radioed for a supervisor to come to the scene. Officer Thornton returned and stated that Ms. Pearl had definitely heard gunshots and believed that the girls might be dead. At that point, believing that the girls might be inside, possibly seriously injured but alive, the officers kicked in the door. They saw the younger girl lying face down on the floor with blood pouring from her head. She appeared dead. The officers began a search of the apartment for appellant. After determining that he was not there, they secured the apartment and waited for the physical evidence team and others to arrive. A search warrant was obtained about four hours later, but not before the bodies were removed and photographs were taken.

The trial court found, in part, that the warrantless entry was authorized under the emergency doctrine. The court stated that "obtaining a warrant was impractical because the officers reasonably believed there was immediate needs [sic] to act in order to protect or preserve the life or prevent serious bodily injury." Appellant's sole argument is that any evidence seized from the scene before the warrant was obtained should have been suppressed because the officers' initial entry was not justified under the "emergency doctrine."

In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we give "almost total deference to a trial court's determination of historical facts" and review de novo its application of the law. (28) Under the emergency doctrine, an officer's warrantless entry into a home does not violate the Fourth Amendment if the officer has a reasonable belief that he must act immediately "to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury." (29) In determining whether such a warrantless entry is justified, we apply an objective standard of reasonableness which looks at the officer's conduct and takes into account the fact and circumstances known to the officer at the time of the entry. (30) Courts use an objective standard of reasonableness to assess the officers' belief that such an emergency existed. (31)

Appellant contends that the officers did not have probable cause because they acted solely on the report of a hysterical woman whom they did not know. Appellant also argues that the officers did not really believe there was an "immediate need to act" or they would not have gone looking for a key instead of making the forced entry immediately.

The record shows that the officers were told by Ms. Pearl, who was extremely distressed, that she heard gunshots while on the phone with her ex-husband and daughters and she believed that the children had been shot. The officers knew that Ms. Pearl had reported this to 911 and that she believed that it had just occurred. Based upon Ms. Pearl's frantic demeanor, the fact that she stated she heard gunshots while on the phone with her daughters and heard her daughters yell, "No, daddy, no," and that Ms. Pearl had reported the incident to 911, the officers' belief that they needed to gain entry quickly in case the girls were injured and needed medical attention was an objectively reasonable one. They were concerned that the door would not easily be forced in. Officer Thornton decided to see if there was a key, and also wanted to verify that Ms. Pearl had definitely heard shots while on the phone. He was downstairs and back in a couple of minutes, and immediately upon his return, the officers forced the door open. They had an objectively reasonable belief that there was "an immediate need to act in order to protect or preserve" the lives of the two girls. (32) The evidence supports the trial court's ruling that the officers' entry was justified under the emergency doctrine. Points of error twelve and thirteen are overruled.

D. Challenges to the Texas Death Penalty Scheme

In his fourteenth point of error, appellant claims that imposition of the death penalty on mentally ill defendants violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Appellant argues that mental illness impairs understanding and functioning in ways that substantially reduce personal culpability, that a sentence of death is grossly disproportionate to the personal culpability of defendants afflicted by mental illness, and that executing mentally ill individuals serves no legitimate penal objective. He argues that persons with mental illness, such as himself, do not have the same capacity as others to appreciate the consequences of their actions and they do not possess the requisite level of culpability to warrant death. Given their diminished level of personal culpability, he argues, execution does not fulfill the goal of retribution.

The execution of mentally retarded persons and insane persons violates the Eighth Amendment. (33) An insane person "has no comprehension of why he has been singled out and stripped of his fundamental right to life." (34) Thus, his execution would have no retributive value. And the execution of an individual who has "no capacity to come to grips with his own conscience or deity" offends humanity. (35) Mentally retarded persons have diminished culpability because of their many and varied impairments, including "diminished capacities to understand and process information, to communicate, to abstract from mistakes and learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, to control impulses, and to understand the reactions of others." (36) The same reasons that make a mentally retarded person less morally culpable also make it less likely that they are able to conform their conduct based upon an understanding of the associated penalty, thus failing to serve the penal policy of deterrence.

Appellant does not contend that he was or is insane or mentally retarded. (37) Rather, he points to expert testimony at trial stating that his mental illness, bipolar disorder, was a contributing factor in the commission of the offense. He argues that his mental illness caused his reasoning to be impaired, diminished his capacity to evaluate the consequences of his actions, and rendered him unable to conform his behavior to society's norms. But there is no Supreme Court authority or authority from this Court suggesting that mental illness which is a "contributing factor" in the defendant's actions or that caused some impairment or some diminished capacity is enough to render one immune from execution under the Eighth Amendment. (38) Certainly the issues concerning appellant's mental illness were relevant to the question of mitigation and were properly presented and argued at punishment. But this Court has previously rejected an invitation to extend the federal constitutional proscription against execution of the insane to the greater category of mentally ill defendants, (39) and we decline to do so today. Point of error fourteen is overruled.

In his fifteenth point of error, appellant claims that the Texas death-penalty scheme violates due process because the mitigation issue fails to require the State to prove the absence of sufficient mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, contrary to Apprendi v. New Jersey. (40) We have rejected identical claims. (41) Point of error fifteen is overruled.

In point of error sixteen, appellant claims that the Texas death-penalty scheme violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by requiring at least ten "no" votes for the jury to return a negative answer to the punishment issues. We have rejected identical claims. (42) Point of error sixteen is overruled.

In point of error seventeen, appellant contends that certain undefined and vague terms within the special punishment issues render the scheme unconstitutional. Appellant complains of the failure to define "probability," "criminal acts of violence," "continuing threat to society," "society," "sufficient mitigating circumstance or circumstances," "circumstances of the offense," and "Defendant's character and background." Omission of an instruction defining these terms does not render the issues unconstitutional. Such terms can be understood by jurors without a special instruction. (43) Point of error seventeen is overruled.

In points of error eighteen and nineteen, appellant claims the Texas death-penalty scheme violates the United States and Texas Constitutions because "of the impossibility of simultaneously restricting the jury's discretion to impose the death penalty while also allowing the jury unlimited discretion to consider all evidence mitigating against imposition of the death penalty." We have repeatedly rejected identical claims. (44) Points of error eighteen and nineteen are overruled.

In points of error twenty and twenty-one appellant contends his rights under the United States and Texas constitutions were violated by the cumulative effect of the constitutional errors he alleges in his brief. Appellant has failed to show any constitutional errors. Points of error twenty and twenty-one are overruled.

The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Delivered: May 18, 2005

Do Not Publish

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1. Tex. Pen. Code 19.03(a).

2. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 37.071, 2(b) & (e).

3. Id. art. 37.071, 2(g).

4. Id. art. 37.071, 2(h).

5. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19 (1979).

6. Hayes v. State, 85 S.W.3d 809, 814 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002).

7. Id.

8. Appellant argues that his violence is triggered only by his relationships with women, but evidence at trial showed that his physical violence had also been triggered by his brother and by a stranger.

9. 961 S.W.2d 161, 169 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).

10. Manns v. State, 122 S.W.3d 171, 194 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003); Allen v. State, 108 S.W.3d 281, 285 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1185 (2004).

11. Cockrum v. State, 758 S.W.2d 577, 587-89 (Tex. Crim. App. 1988).

12. Id. at 589.

13. Id.

14. See Murphy v. Florida, 421 U.S. 794, 799-800 (1975) (noting that qualified jurors need not be totally ignorant of the facts and issued involved in the case; "'[t]o hold that the mere existence of any preconceived notion as to the guilt or innocence of an accused, without more, is sufficient to rebut the presumption of a prospective juror's impartiality would be to establish an impossible standard. It is sufficient if the juror can lay aside his impression or opinion and render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court'") (quoting Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, 723 (1961)).

15. 982 S.W.2d 386 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).

16. Id. at 391.

17. Id.

18. Id.

19. Id. at 394.

20. Feldman v. State, 71 S.W.3d 738, 749 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002).

21. Moses v. State, 105 S.W.3d 622, 626 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003).

22. Id.

23. Id.

24. Id.

25. See Crane v. State, 786 S.W.2d 338, 349-50 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990) (stating that "the prosecution may always offer evidence to show motive for the commission of the offense because it is relevant as a circumstance to prove the commission of the offense").

26. Tex. R. App. P. 38.1.

27. The apartment was described as a loft in the Adams Hat Factory.

28. Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85, 88-89 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997).

29. See Laney v. State, 117 S.W.3d 854, 861-62 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003).

30. See id. Because appellant's sole argument is that the initial entry was not justified under the emergency doctrine, we do not address whether the warrantless "search" of the apartment was "strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which [justified] its initiation." See id. at 862. In his brief, appellant states the following:

The trial court ruled that there were exigent circumstances that brought "into play" the emergency doctrine and that the officers had probable cause to search the residence. She also found that obtaining a search warrant was impractical because the officers reasonably believed there was an immediate need to act to protect or preserve life or prevent serious bodily injury. As a result of that finding, the court held that all evidence that was in plain view during the "emergency search" "[i]ncluding, but not limited to the bodies, the blood evidence, the hair fibers, the handguns, the shells, the projectiles, the guns viewed in the closet, and any other evidence within the area of plain view during the emergency entry and sweep of the apartment" [was admissible].

31. Id.

32. See Laney, 117 S.W.3d at 861.

33. Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002); Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986).

34. Ford, 477 U.S. at 409.

35. Id.

36. Atkins, 536 U.S. at 318.

37. At the time of the murders, appellant was a financial officer for an oil company and had a private CPA practice.

38. We also note that the expert testimony in appellant's case does not support the breadth of his claims. The experts all agreed that appellant knew what he was doing at the time he committed the acts. While one expert did testify that appellant was "not thinking about the consequences" because his mania was in control at the time of the offense, she did not state that appellant's condition precluded him from being aware of the consequences. The main thrust of the experts' testimony was that appellant's bipolar condition affected his impulse control-his ability to conform his behavior. A lack of impulse control, while recognized in Atkins as one of a number of factors reducing the personal culpability of mentally retarded individuals, has never been recognized as sufficient alone to render one immune from execution under the Eighth Amendment.

39. Colburn v. State, 966 S.W.2d 511 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).

40. 530 U.S. 466 (2000).

41. Resendiz v. State, 112 S.W.3d 541, 550 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003), cert. denied, 124 S. Ct. 2098 (2004).

42. Resendiz, 112 S.W.3d at 548-49; Wright v. State, 28 S.W.3d 526, 537 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000); Williams v. State, 937 S.W.2d 479, 490 (1996).

43. See Feldman, 71 S.W.3d at 757; Ladd v. State, 3 S.W.3d 547, 572-73 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999).

44. Escamilla v. State, 143 S.W.3d 814, 828 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004); Turner v. State, 87 S.W.3d 111, 118 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002)

 

 

 
 
 
 
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