A Manassas man who admitted to stabbing his estranged wife 14 times in front of her two young daughters and several high school students was sentenced Thursday to 60 years in prison, moments after he turned to a full courtroom and asked her family to forgive him.
Prince William County Circuit Court Judge William D. Hamblen suspended 25 years of the sentence, so John Battle, 39, will serve only up to 35 years for the January slaying of Deborah Battle, 30. Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) said the 25-year suspension is used as a "club over the defense's head so that if [Battle] doesn't abide by the terms of his parole, he'll be sent back to prison."
Upon hearing the sentence, friends and family of Deborah Battle erupted with animated cheers and shouts. John Battle's family members, who quickly fled the courtroom, had no comment; a few were crying.
According to testimony, Battle waited outside his wife's home for more than an hour before lunging at her with a 14-inch bowie knife as she walked toward her car, pushing her daughters out of the way. Witnesses told authorities that Deborah Battle yelled "Run!" to her children before John Battle dragged her along the concrete sidewalk, stabbing her. An autopsy showed that she died from deep wounds in the chest and back.
Ebert, who recommended a 35-year sentence in exchange for a plea arrangement so Deborah Battle's children would not have to testify against their stepfather, called the slaying an "atrocious crime" from a person who authorities knew "harbored hostilities toward women."
In court documents, John Battle had blamed his failed marriage to his first wife, the custody battle over their two sons and his pending divorce to Deborah Battle as the reasons he "just snapped." Ebert countered Thursday that "there are thousands of people who have things go wrong in their lives . . . and everybody does not react the way this man did in broad daylight in front of his stepchildren and other children."
Students from Osbourn High School were standing at a nearby bus stop when the attack occurred, according to police reports.
In an interview after the sentencing yesterday, Angela Battle, John Battle's first wife, who filed for divorce after citing physical and emotional abuse, said she is confident that Deborah Battle, who had filed for divorce a month before her death, would still be alive if state laws were more stringent.
"He physically and verbally abused me and my son," she said. "And all he had to pay was a $50 fine for it and [have] an assault and battery misdemeanor charge on his record."
Deborah Battle's mother, Bonny Welch, said that although she is not completely satisfied with the length of the sentence, "Justice has been served."
"But if he had received the help he needed, this would never have happened," she said, adding that her daughter had called her numerous times, telling her of the physical abuse she and her oldest daughter, now 10, endured.
John Battle's attorney, Kevin T. Wilson, declined to comment after the sentencing, saying only that his client's comments to the courtroom sufficed.
Before hearing his sentence, Battle turned to the crowd and, with his hands crossed and his shoulders hunched, expressed his remorse.
"I'm very sorry for the pain I caused. I have greatly sinned, and I just hope you will be able to forgive me," he said. "I loved Debbie, and she didn't deserve this."