Mary Jean Pearle knew her husband was capable of violence, but she never thought he would turn his rage on their two little girls. She was wrong.
He shot them dead — while Pearle listened on the telephone — and he now faces the death penalty for the crime.
Pearle shares her horrifying story with ABCNEWS' Deborah Roberts for the sake, she says, of other families like hers, who may be in more danger than they realize.
Doting Father, Abusive Husband
To outsiders, Pearle's life had appeared as picture-perfect as her home. She was from a well-to-do family and worked as an antiques dealer; her husband John Battaglia was an accountant. Their first daughter, Faith, was born in 1992; their second, Liberty, came three years later.
"John was very charming, and giving and fun, and he was just wonderful," says Pearle of her former husband. "Everybody loved John."
But though Pearle had two beautiful girls, three dogs and a home in one of Dallas' wealthiest neighborhoods, she was also married to a man with a violent past.
"He did tell me before we married that he had gotten into an argument and hit his ex-wife," she says. "He didn't tell me that he'd broken her nose."
Nor did he mention that he'd brutally beaten and kicked his former wife in front of her daughter's elementary school.
Pearle noticed his temper for herself for the first time on their wedding night. "He snapped at me about something," she remembers. "That didn't seem quite right."
Soon, there would be more flickers of a violent temper and verbal abuse. "Every name in the book you can think of," says Pearle.
Though he had become abusive to his wife, she says he was a doting father.
"He never spanked the children. He never raised his voice to the children. He never grabbed their arm," says Pearle. "He did nothing but was loving to them."
Pearle says she wanted to "keep the family together," so she endured a private hell for years. "John could be very fun and loving and he had a lot of good points," she says. Her friends and family, too, suggested that John could get counseling and they could work things out.
But, she says, Battaglia refused counseling, and over the years, her marriage became an emotional endurance test, with violent tirades lasting 20 minutes at a time.
One day, a small argument nearly escalated to a physical attack.
"He got real close, and his eyes were bulging out, and veins, and the whole thing, and he said, 'I'll knock your f***ing head off, bitch,'" remembers Pearle. "And I said, 'John, you need to step back.' And he got about an inch closer. So he's about an inch from my face and he screamed it again at me, and so I stood up and I turned to the bathroom, and I walked in there, picked up the phone, called 911."
After seven years of torture often witnessed by her daughters, Pearle had had enough. She filed for divorce, hoping, she says, that her husband would get help and pull the marriage together. Meanwhile, the Dallas County family court allowed John to see the girls, but not to enter their home.
'I Never Thought He'd Hurt the Children'
But on Christmas day in 1999, Pearle let him in to see the girls. An argument erupted.
"I saw him coming, and so I just grabbed my head and I fell on to Liberty's mattress, and I covered my head," says Pearle. "He was just pounding on me as hard as a man can pound on, on the back of my head. And I'm screaming 'Call 911! Call 911!'"