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A jury found Fratta guilty of capital murder in April 1996. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Fratta's conviction and death sentence in June 1999.
Joseph Prystash and Howard Paul Guidry were also convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Both men remain on Death Row as of this writing.
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution entitles criminal defendants to the right to confront or cross-examine witnesses. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that hearsay testimony is admissible only under certain limited conditions. While there was ample testimony at Fratta's trial showing that he had the motive and intent to murder his wife, the state's evidence that Fratta hired Prystash to do it consisted mainly of Prystash and Guidry's confessions and Mary Gipp's testimony. Prystash and Guidry did not testify at Fratta's trial, and Gipp's testimony consisted of conversations she had with Prystash about things she had no direct knowledge of. The trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals found that this evidence met the Supreme Court's standards for admissible hearsay testimony, but U.S. District Court Judge Melinda Harmon did not, and overturned Fratta's conviction. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Harmon's ruling.
In 2007, prior to Judge Harmon's overturning his conviction, Fratta wrote her, asking how to end his appeals and allow his execution to proceed. "I would rather be killed than live in this daily torture and torment," he wrote.
Farah's parents, Lex and Betty Baquer, adopted the couple's children: Bradley, Daniel, and Amber. When Amber was 18, she visited her father in jail, where he was awaiting retrial. "He had a grin on his face like he had no emotion to him at all," Amber later told an interviewer. "He had the nerve to tell me to please go to Christian counseling. By then, I had heard enough from him." This interview was used in an episode of "48 Hours" that aired in 2010.
"He's a psychopath," Amber said.
Fratta's new trial was held in May 2009. He was again found guilty. At his sentencing hearing, his children urged jurors to sentence their father to death, which they did. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed that verdict in October 2011. All of Fratta's subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
Three days before his execution, Fratta gave a telephone interview to Abraham Bonowitz of Death Penalty Action, an anti-death-penalty organization. He began by saying that keeping prisoners on Death Row is a "ridiculously tormenting" thing for the government to be doing.
"To have you knowing the day and time and everything that you're gonna die, and it's just prolonged, and everything that they put you through beforehand, this is torture," Fratta said. "And I can't believe that the government of 'We the People' actually allows this to happen."
Bonowitz told Fratta that their conversation was going to be heard by people all over the world. Fratta then said, to people who are considering emigrating to the United States, that if their country does not have the death penalty, "you're probably better off in the country you're in, and you don't realize it."
In his 27 years on Death Row, Fratta never admitted having any part in Farah's murder. In the 13-minute interview with Bonowitz, Fratta did not speak about his wife or her murder, and Bonowitz did not ask him to.
Fratta's final appeals objected to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's practice of using stocks of the lethal injection drug, pentobarbital, that have passed their expiration date. Texas has difficulty obtaining pentobarbital because its manufacturers refuse to sell it for purposes of lethal injection. Defense attorneys claimed that the use of expired pentobarbital in an execution places condemned prisoners "at serious risk of pain and suffering." The Texas Department of Criminal Justice stated that it tests the drugs before use to ensure that they are potent. Attorneys for the state called the claim that the expired drugs cause pain "speculative."
Instead of going through the usual process for filing appeals for condemned prisoners, Fratta's lawyers filed their cases in civil court in Travis County. Attorneys for two other prisoners, Wesley Ruiz and John Balentine, also sought the same relief. On 4 January, a week before Fratta's execution, the Court of Criminal Appeals granted a request from Attorney General Ken Paxton ordering Travis County Judge Jan Soifer "from enjoining, staying, or other interfering with" the executions of these three men "in any way."
At about 4:00 p.m. on the day of Fratta's execution, Catherine Mauzy, a different civil court judge in Travis County, issued an injunction preventing the TDCJ from using expired drugs in lethal injections. The judge's order said that this was not done in the particular interest of Fratta and the other prisoners and was not done with the purpose of stopping or delaying their executions, but was merely an order for existing Texas drug laws to be enforced in the TDCJ. The TDCJ then appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals as well as the Texas Supreme Court. Both courts ruled that Mauzy did not have jurisdiction over the matter.
The couple's oldest son, Bradley Baquer, and Farah's brother, Zain Baquer, attended Fratta's execution. They were joined by Andy Kahan, a crime victims advocate based in Houston. No witnesses attended on the condemned man's behalf. A spiritual advisor stood with him in the execution chamber and prayed.
Fratta declined to make a last statement. The lethal injection was given. Fratta closed his eyes, took a deep breath, snored loudly six times, and lost consciousness, without showing any noticeable signs of pain. He was pronounced dead at 7:49 p.m.
UPDATE (1 February 2023): Logs obtained through a public information request revealed that TDCJ received eight new doses of pentobarbital on 5 January, five days before Fratta's execution, and one of those vials was used to execute Fratta. A TDCJ spokesman told a Texas Tribune reporter that they did not disclose that they had a new batch of drugs because they wanted to "preserve the ability to use any of the drugs in our inventory because we believe they are still viable to be used in executions."
By David Carson. Posted on 11 January 2023. Small edits for continuity and readability made on 12 January 2023. One typo corrected on 25 January 2023.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, court documents, public records, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, KHOU-TV, Texas Tribune.