Robert Alan Fratta, 65, was executed by lethal injection on 10 January 2023 in Huntsville, Texas for hiring the murder of his wife.
Fratta was employed as a public safety officer - a combination police officer and firefighter - in Missouri City, southwest of Houston. He had three children with his wife, Farah. In November 1992, she filed for divorce, and the couple separated. According to trial testimony, Robert wanted to remain married on the condition that Farah agreed to an "open marriage." At custody proceedings in March and April 1993, Robert did not want primary custody of the children, but he wanted joint management over the children's medical and educational decisions. He also wanted to restrict Farah's ability to move with the children to a 100-mile radius. Farah opposed these requests.
As the months passed, Robert became increasingly bitter and angry toward Farah. He complained to his friends that he was always broke because he had to pay child support, and he wanted primary custody so that Farah would have to pay him. He said, however, that Farah would win the custody battle because her parents had money. According to trial testimony, Robert stated that he would not have to pay Farah child support if he killed her.
In December 1993, Farah gave a deposition in which she stated that Robert wanted her to engage in deviant sexual fetishes in which she would dominate him through acts of asphyxiation, coprophilia, and urophilia. She stated that Robert wanted her to perform acts of this nature on him on a daily basis. Robert told a friend that the things she said about him were untrue, and he did not want other people to hear what she had said about him. He began actively seeking someone to kill Farah. He solicited many of his friends and acquaintances to kill her or recommend someone to do it. More than a dozen "workout buddies" who used the same gym as Fratta later told investigators that he talked "a lot" about getting rid of his wife. Initially, they believed he was blowing off steam, but as he continued to talk about it over time, some of them began to take him seriously. One friend testified that Fratta offered him $1,000 cash in advance and his Jeep.
James Podhorsky was a member of the same gym used by Fratta. He and Fratta sometimes went out to topless clubs together. He testified that Fratta brought a gun when they went out together. Podhursky questioned Fratta whether, police officer or not, it was a good idea for them to have a gun in the car when they were going out drinking. "His response was, well, the reason I'm bringing the gun is in case we run into Farah, I'll shoot her myself and make it look like a car jacking."
The Frattas' divorce and custody trial was scheduled for 28 November 1994.
On Wednesday, 9 November 1994, Fratta, then 37, ate dinner with Farah and the three children, who were aged 4 through 7, at a cafeteria. He then took the children to a Catholic church in Humble, north of Houston. He left the two youngest children in the church nursery and brought the 7-year-old to a catechism class. He stayed to attend a meeting for parents whose children were preparing for their first communion. During the meeting, he repeatedly excused himself to go to the church office to make and receive telephone calls.
Farah went to the hair salon and then went home. She pulled into her driveway in Atascosita around 8:00 p.m. At that time, Farah's neighbors across the street were sitting in their living room and had a view of Farah's house and garage. One of these neighbors testified that she heard a gunshot and looked out of the window into Farah's garage. She heard a scream and saw Farah fall to the ground beside her car, then heard another gunshot. About three minutes later, she saw a man who "wasn't very tall and he had a very round head" standing on the side of Farah's house. The man was either black or was white and wearing black makeup "or something." Another neighbor testified to seeing "either a white person with a stocking [on] or it was a black person." A few minutes later, a silver or gray car with a burned-out headlight drove up, picked up the man, and quickly drove off. The neighbors called 9-1-1. Farah was taken to the emergency room and was pronounced dead there. A law enforcement officer on the scene observed that her purse was undisturbed.
KHOU-TV in Houston published a 9-1-1 call made by Laura Helscher reporting that she saw a woman named Farah who was shot two times in her garage, right across the street from her, and was "down." She saw a black man who was dressed in black standing behind a tree. As Helscher speaks to the sheriff's department dispatcher, she narrates seeing a small silver Toyota or Honda hatchback with a broken headlight pull up. The suspect gets in the car, and the car drives off. She continues narrating as her husband, Darren, goes over to check on the woman. After a moment, Laura says, "she's breathing," then Darren can be heard saying, "the woman's been shot in the head, and she's still alive." About 7 minutes into the call, Helscher says, "there's a police officer coming," then she and the dispatcher conclude the call.
Robert Fratta arrived at Farah's house with the children thirty to forty minutes after the police. One officer testified that Fratta showed no signs of sadness, concern, or surprise. He said Fratta was in a hurry and wanted to expedite the investigation of the crime scene. A detective who observed Fratta at the scene described him as "very confident, very composed," and "well in command of the situation." Later that night, the detective interviewed Fratta at the police station and felt that he was being deceptive. Fratta consented to a search of his car. Police found a 9mm pistol and $1,050 in cash in a plain white envelope. After 14 hours at the homicide division, Fratta was released.
In a 70-minute video taken while he was in custody on 10 November, being interrogated by an off-screen male officer, Fratta calmly answers the questions put to him. He said that his wife had already been taken to the hospital by the time he arrived at her house to drop the children off. He said he had been informed that she had a pulse and was breathing but "it wasn't good."
"I would have never wanted anything like this to happen," he said.
Fratta said he had previously been suspected in a robbery at Farah's house that occurred about six months earlier, "the last time she had a stunt like this." He said that Farah's boyfriend visited her frequently and he heard a rumor that he used drugs. He said that the Sunday before the murder, he received a phone call from his son, Bradley, who was crying and upset, because he didn't want "the bad man" to kill him (that is, to kill Robert). He said Farah's boyfriend was there when he dropped the children off that night, and thought Bradley may have overheard a conversation between Farah and her boyfriend and "she was setting me up for a hit." He said Farah "had some shady sides of the family." He said when he pulled up to Farah's house the previous evening and saw the police cars and tape, "I honestly thought it was a drug raid." He theorized that what happened in Farah's garage may have been the result of a scheme that she was hatching against him backfiring on her.
"For some reason, I feel like she knew the person," he said.
He also stated that there had recently been a series of odd, unexplained occurrences in his house, such as doors opened, items missing, and evidence that his home phone was used by someone else to call Farah's house.
When the interrogator took Fratta to the subject of his marriage, he stated that he loved Farah and never wanted for her to divorce him. When asked why she wanted the divorce, he said that there was no romance or affection between them. He tried to convince her that while they did not have the best marriage, it was far from the worst. He was content with that, but "she wanted to find somebody that put her on a pedestal."
During the interrogation, Fratta stated that he owned a Jeep CJ7. He also told the interrogator that he did not have any life insurance on Farah.
The officer interviewing Fratta left the room three times. All three times, immediately after the man leaves, Fratta can be seen vigorously rubbing his eyes with his hands for several seconds. During one absence, he lowered his head into his hands and appeared to sob briefly.
James Podhorsky testified that on the afternoon following the murder, Fratta came into the tanning salon where he worked. He told Podhorsky, "if everybody keeps their mouth shut, everything will be all right." After tanning, Fratta told Podhorsky that if the heat comes down, Podhorsky should claim that he went over to Farah's to scare her and fired at her, but the bullet ended up grazing her head, and at that point, he became scared and fired the second shot.
A few days later, Fratta attempted to collect on Farah's life insurance policy. The investigation into her murder remained open.
On 1 March 1995, Howard Guidry, 18, was arrested after a bank robbery. At the time of his arrest, he had a three weapons in his backpack, one of which was a .38-caliber revolver. A few days later, Mary Gipp, who lived in the apartment next to Guidry, gave a statement to detectives indicating that Guidry had been involved in Farah's murder. A registration check on Guidry's revolver indicated that it had been purchased by Robert Fratta in 1982. A Houston Police Department firearms examiner subsequently testified that one of the bullet fragments recovered from Farah's garage had been fired from the revolver. The other bullet fragment was a possible match, but was too damaged to be positively matched to it.
Guidry gave a confession to Sergeant Danny Ray Billingsley of the Harris County Sheriff's Department. At Guidry's trial, Billingsley testified that Guidry told him that in the late afternoon of 9 November 1994, he and Joseph Prystash, then 38, drove by Farah's house and then to a nearby grocery store where there was a pay phone. They tested the pay phone with their mobile phone, then Prystash dropped Guidry off with the revolver and mobile phone at Farah's house. Guidry climbed the fence into the backyard and waited inside a children's play house. After waiting a while, Guidry called the pay phone where Prystash was waiting to report that Farah had not arrived home. Prystash instructed him to keep waiting. A short time later, Farah drove up. Guidry left the play house. He tried to open the side door to the garage, but it was locked, so he went around to the front. When Farah opened her car door, he shot her one time in the head. She fell to the floor, but was still moving, so he shot her a second time in the head. He then returned to the play house and called Prystash. He then climbed over the fence and waited for Prystash to pick him up. He gave the revolver back to Prystash. Billingsley testified that Guidry said he expected to be paid $1,000 for killing Farah.
Joseph Prystash also confessed to Sgt. Billingsley. His confession largely mirrored Guidry's. He said that the mobile phone they used in the murder belonged to Mary Gipp, who was his live-in girlfriend. Prystash said Guidry was to receive $1,000 for his participation, while Prystash was to receive "a couple thousand dollars" and a Jeep for hiring Guidry and serving as the middleman and driver.
At Fratta's trial, Gipp testified that on the weekend before the murder, she knew that Prystash was going to be involved in Farah's murder and knew that it was going to occur on a Wednesday. He was to be the driver and was to receive a Jeep for his participation in it. She stated that Prystash and Guidry had been chatting often on the balcony outside their apartment. On the night of the murder, she arrived home to find Guidry seated on the steps in front of her apartment. Guidry, who is black, was dressed in black. Prystash arrived a few minutes later. While Prystash unloaded a gun, he stated that they had killed Farah. He knew she was dead because he saw her body in her garage. He said that he and Guidry were going to the gym to meet "Bob" and get some money from him. After Prystash concealed the gun under some clothes, they left. Gipp testified that she wrote down the serial number of the gun and retrieved two spent shell casings from the kitchen trash. When Prystash returned to Gipp's apartment that night, Guidry was with him. Prystash gave the gun to Guidry to dispose of. Gipp subsequently disposed of the shell casings in a trash can at a shopping mall.
The manager of the gym where Fratta and Prystash worked out testified that on the night of the murder, Prystash arrived at 9:35 p.m. The gym closed at 10:00 p.m.
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