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Slain girls’ mother tells of hearing fatal shots on phone

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DALLAS — The last time Mary Jean Pearle saw her two young daughters alive, she had just turned them over to her ex-husband, who was supposed to take the children to dinner.

Pearle said she watched John Battaglia take longer than usual loading 9-year-old Faith and 6-year-old Liberty into his pickup. Then they were gone.

Battaglia is accused of shooting the couple's girls that night at his apartment loft while their mother listened helplessly on the phone.

On the first day of testimony Monday in Battaglia's capital murder trial, Pearle recounted the longing doubt she felt on May 2 as she dropped off the children with her ex-husband. She also told jurors of the abuse she had endured at the hands of the 46-year-old accountant.

"For our entire marriage, John had been very verbally abusive to me," Pearle testified. "I kept trying to work it out. I wanted my kids to have a mom and dad. I kept thinking if he'd just go get counseling, he'd stop yelling."

Dressed in a black suit, Battaglia sat emotionless during most of the testimony but mouthed the words "I'm sorry" to Pearle, who avoided eye contact. Battaglia has pleaded not guilty.

At the time of the girls' deaths, authorities were preparing to ask a judge to revoke his two-year probation for assaulting Pearle. The request alleged that Battaglia had violated conditions of the probation, which barred him from contacting his ex-wife.

Pearle testified Monday that the night her daughters were killed, Battaglia sent word for Pearle to call him. When she did, he allegedly had Faith ask on the speaker phone, "Mommy, why do you want Daddy to have to go to jail?"

Then she said she heard her daughter say, "No, Daddy, please, no don't do it."

"I knew it was so bad," Pearle told jurors in raw, heart-wrenching testimony. "Because she had never said no to her daddy in her whole life."

Pearle said she heard five gunshots and Battaglia yelling profanity.

Pearle called police, who broke into the apartment and found the girls' bodies, along with handguns, shotguns and rifles. Photographs of the crime scene showed the little bodies, barefooted, face down in pools of blood, the elder sister with bullet holes down her back.

Battaglia was arrested hours later with a fresh tattoo on his left arm of two flowers representing his daughters. Prosecutors said he had gone out and left a message on the children's answering machine calling them "very brave," and their mother "evil" and "vicious."

"Good night, my little babies," Battaglia was heard saying on the message played in court. "I hope you are resting."