HOUSTON (AP) — A former suburban Houston police officer was set to be executed Tuesday for hiring two people to kill his estranged wife nearly 30 years ago.
Robert Fratta, 65, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection for the November 1994 fatal shooting of his wife, Farah, amid a contentious divorce and custody fight for their three children.
Prosecutors say Fratta organized the murder-for-hire plot in which a middleman, Joseph Prystash, hired the shooter, Howard Guidry. Farah Fratta, 33, was shot twice in the head by Guidry in her home’s garage in the Houston suburb of Atascocita. Robert Fratta, who was a public safety officer for Missouri City, has long claimed he is innocent.
Prosecutors said Fratta had repeatedly expressed his desire to see his wife dead and asked several acquaintances if they knew anyone who would kill her, telling one friend, “I’ll just kill her, and I’ll do my time and when I get out, I’ll have my kids,” according to court records. Prystash and Guidry were also sent to death row for the slaying.
A few hours before Fratta's scheduled Tuesday evening execution at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, the U.S. Supreme Court declined an appeal from his lawyers.
Fratta’s attorneys had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution, arguing that prosecutors withheld evidence that a trial witness had been hypnotized by investigators. They say that led her to change her initial recollection that she saw two men at the murder scene as well as a getaway driver.
“This would have undermined the State’s case, which depended on just two men committing the act and depended on linking Fratta to both,” Fratta’s lawyers wrote in their appeal to the Supreme Court.
Prosecutors have argued the hypnosis produced no new information and no new identification.
Fratta also is one of four Texas death row inmates who has sued to stop the state’s prison system from using what they allege are expired and unsafe execution drugs.
Following a hearing Tuesday on the lawsuit, civil court Judge Catherine Mauzy in Austin issued a temporary injunction preventing the state's prison system from using what she believes is likely expired and medically compromised pentobarbital — the drug Texas uses in its lethal injection. Mauzy's order was likely to conflict with last week's edict from Texas’ top criminal appeals court that barred her from issuing any orders in the lawsuit that would halt any execution.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it was appealing the judge's order and that Fratta's execution was still scheduled for Tuesday evening.
The Supreme Court and lower courts have previously rejected appeals from Fratta’s lawyers that sought to review claims arguing insufficient evidence and faulty jury instructions were used to convict him. His attorneys also unsuccessfully argued that one juror in his case was not impartial and that ballistics evidence didn’t tie him to the murder weapon.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles last week unanimously declined to commute Fratta’s death sentence to a lesser penalty or to grant a 60-day reprieve.
Fratta was first sentenced to death in 1996, but his case was overturned by a federal judge who ruled that confessions from his co-conspirators shouldn’t have been admitted into evidence. In the same ruling, the judge wrote that “trial evidence showed Fratta to be egotistical, misogynistic, and vile, with a callous desire to kill his wife.”
He was retried and resentenced to death in 2009.
Andy Kahan, director of victim services and advocacy for Crime Stoppers of Houston and who has helped Farah Fratta’s family during the case, said he plans to witness the execution, keeping a promise he made to Farah Fratta’s father, Lex Baquer, who died in 2018. Baquer and his wife raised Robert and Farah Fratta’s three children.
“I don’t expect anything to come out of Bob that would show any type of admission or any type of remorse because everything has always revolved around him,” Kahan said.
The execution will be a way for the children “to continue to move on with their lives and at the very least they won’t have to think about him anymore. I think that will play an important part in their healing,” he said.
Fratta would be the first inmate put to death this year in Texas and the second in the U.S. Eight other executions are scheduled in Texas for later this year.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: twitter.com/juanlozano70