Battaglia Granted Execution Stay

Appeals court grants inmate more time to argue incompetency claim

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a March 18 ruling by a Dallas federal court this morning (March 30), just hours before death row inmate John Battaglia was scheduled for execution. In an 11-page ruling, the federal appeals court ruled that more time was needed to assess Battaglia’s mental stability.

The 5th Circuit’s ruling also decrees that Battaglia shall be able to begin working with Gregory Gardner, on account of Battaglia’s deteriorating relationship with his current attorney, Michael Gross. Gardner, a defense attorney and professor of law at the American University of Washington, was the attorney who filed Battaglia’s motion for a stay of execution on March 10. That motion was originally denied by the U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle, who ruled that Battaglia did not present these claims in a timely manner and that they could not be considered compelling, “particularly on the eve of his scheduled execution.” The 5th Circuit’s ruling on Battaglia’s appeal, however, concurs with Battaglia’s argument that Gross “has effectively abandoned” his client, and thus did not present Battaglia with a proper opportunity to file competency claims before mid-March.

Battaglia is the Dallas man who in May 2, 2001 shot and killed his two daughters while one of them was on the phone with their mother, who divorced Battaglia in 1999 after a brief marriage. As detailed in last week’s paper, Battaglia chose a particularly disturbing method for murdering his children, shooting them both at close range before screaming “Merry fucking Christmas” and firing off more gunshots. He was sentenced to death after prosecutors were able to point to a long history of violence. In recent years, notably via a 2014 interview with The Dallas Morning News, Battaglia has said that he remains “a little in the blank” about what happened to his daughters. He maintains that he does not currently recognize that he killed them.

The 5th Circuit’s order for a stay of execution corresponds to Battaglia’s claims of mental incompetency. The ruling states: “Battaglia effectively lacked counsel to prepare his claim of incompetency. In our view, it would be improper to approve his execution before his newly before his newly appointed counsel has time to develop his Ford claim,” alluding to the 1974 Florida case in which Alvin Ford was spared his life because his mental condition had deteriorated so much that his execution would have violated the Eighth Amendment.

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