HOUSTON – A former suburban Houston police officer was executed Tuesday for hiring two people to kill his estranged wife nearly 30 years ago amid a contentious divorce and custody battle.
Robert Fratta, 65, received a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the November 1994 fatal shooting of his wife, Farah. He was pronounced dead at 7:49 p.m., 24 minutes after the lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital began flowing into his arms.
For about three minutes before the execution began, Fratta’s spiritual adviser, Barry Brown, prayed over Fratta, who was strapped to the death chamber gurney with intravenous needles in each arm.
Brown, his prayer book on the pillow next to Fratta's head and his right hand resting on Fratta's right hand, asked for prayers for “hearts that have been broken ... for people who grieved and those who will grieve in days ahead.” He asked God to “be merciful to Bobby.”
Asked by the warden if he had a final statement, Fratta replied: “No.”
Brown resumed praying as the lethal drugs began and Fratta, his eyes closed, took a deep breath and then snored loudly six times. Then all movement stopped.
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 in her home’s garage in the Houston suburb of Atascocita. Robert Fratta, who was a public safety officer for Missouri City, had long claimed he was innocent.
The punishment was delayed for little more than an hour until the last of a flurry of final-day appeals cleared the U.S. Supreme Court and Texas' highest courts, the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Fratta’s lawyers argued unsuccessfully that prosecutors withheld evidence that a trial witness had been hypnotized by investigators, leading her to change her initial recollection that she saw two men at the murder scene as well as a getaway driver.
Prosecutors have argued the hypnosis produced no new information and no new identification. They had also said that 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.
Fratta was also one of four Texas death row inmates who sued to stop the state’s prison system from using what they allege are expired and unsafe execution drugs. That lawsuit also failed late Tuesday,
The Supreme Court and lower courts 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 a 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 conviction 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, the director of victim services and advocacy for Crime Stoppers of Houston, said that Farah Fratta’s father, Lex Baquer, who died in 2018, raised Robert and Farah Fratta’s three children with his wife.
Kahan, Fratta's son, Bradley Baquer, and Farah's brother, Zain Baquer, were among witnesses watching Fratta die. Fratta never acknowledged them or looked at them as they stood at a window to the death chamber.
“Bob was a coward in 1994, when he arranged the murder for hire of his estranged wife," Kahan said after the execution. “And 28-plus years later, he still was a coward tonight. When he was offered an opportunity to at least extend an olive branch to his son that he knew was watching this.
“And he still chose the coward's way out. He could have said: ‘I’m sorry.'”
Fratta was 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.
Lozano reported from Houston.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: twitter.com/juanlozano70