HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A former Houston suburban police officer was executed Tuesday for hiring two people to kill his ex-wife almost 30 years ago amid divorce and custody disputes.
Robert Fratta, 65, received a lethal injection at Huntsville State Prison for the murder of his wife Farah in November 1994. He was pronounced dead at 7:49 pm, 24 minutes after a lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital began to reach his hands.
About three minutes before the execution began, Fratta’s spiritual advisor, Barry Brown, prayed over Fratta, who was tied to a gurney in the death chamber with intravenous needles in each arm.
Brown, placing his prayer book on the pillow next to Fratta’s head and placing his right hand on Fratta’s right hand, asked for prayers for “the hearts that have been broken… for the people who have mourned and those who will mourn in the days to come.” He asked God to “be merciful to Bobby.”
Asked by the warden if he had a final statement, Fratta replied, “No.”
Brown resumed his prayer when the lethal drugs kicked in and Fratta took a deep breath with his eyes closed and then snored loudly six times. Then all movement stopped.
Prosecutors allege that Fratta orchestrated a contract killing plot in which go-between Joseph Pristash hired shooter Howard Guidry. Farah Fratta, 33, was shot twice in the head in the garage of her home in the Houston suburb of Atascochita. Robert Fratta, a public safety officer for the city of Missouri, has long maintained his innocence.
The punishment was delayed by a little over an hour until the latest in a flurry of appeals from the last day cleared the U.S. Supreme Court and the superior courts of Texas, the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Fratta’s lawyers unsuccessfully argued that prosecutors withheld evidence that investigators had hypnotized the witness, causing her to change her initial memory of seeing two men at the murder scene as well as a runaway driver.
The prosecutor’s office argued that hypnosis did not provide new information and new identification. They also said that Fratta repeatedly expressed a 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 serve my time and when I get out, I will have children, ”the court record says. Pristash and Guidry were also sent to death row for the murder.
Fratta was also one of four Texas death row inmates who sued to stop the state’s prison system from using expired and unsafe drugs for executions. This lawsuit also failed late Tuesday night,
The Supreme Court and lower courts have previously rejected appeals by Fratta’s attorneys who attempted to renegotiate the claims, arguing that insufficient evidence and faulty jury instructions were used to convict him. His lawyers also argued unsuccessfully that the juror in his case was not impartial and that the ballistic evidence did not link him to the murder weapon.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Parole last week unanimously refused to commute Fratta’s death sentence to a lighter sentence or grant a 60-day reprieve.
Fratta was first sentenced to death in 1996, but his sentence was overturned by a federal judge who ruled that the confessions of his accomplices should not be admitted as evidence. In the same ruling, the judge wrote that “forensic evidence showed that Fratta was selfish, misogynistic and mean-spirited, with a heartless desire to kill his wife.”
In 2009, he was retried and re-sentenced to death.
“Two jurors, one in 1996 and another in a retrial in 2009, found Robert Fratta guilty of hiring two men to kill his wife, and both jurors sentenced him to death,” the county said. Harris County Attorney Kim Ogg. “Robert Fratta showed that he was the worst of the worst, a cowardly act by hiring others to do his dirty work and then hiding behind his authority as a law enforcement officer in an attempt to avoid responsibility.”
Andy Kahan, director of victim affairs and advocacy for Crime Stoppers of Houston, said Farah Fratt’s father, Lex Backer, who died in 2018, was raising Robert and Farah Fratt’s three children with his wife.
Kahan, Fratta’s son, Bradley Backer, and Farah’s brother, Zane Baker, were among the witnesses who witnessed Fratta’s death. Fratta never recognized them or looked at them as they stood at the window of the death chamber.
“Bob was a coward in 1994 when he orchestrated a murder-for-hire of his ex-wife,” Kahan said after the execution. “And 28+ years later, he was still a coward tonight. When offered the opportunity to at least extend an olive branch to his son, who he knew was watching.
And yet he chose the path of the coward. He could say, “I’m sorry.”
Fratta became the first prisoner to be executed this year in Texas and the second in the United States. Eight other executions are scheduled in Texas later this year.