Written By: Billy Sinclair
Let me state at the outset that I believe Robert Fratta contracted to have his wife, Farah, murdered in Harris County, Texas, in 1995. The following facts about this high-profile case were drawn from a July 22, 2008 decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversing Fratta’s capital murder conviction and death sentence. Fratta is undergoing a second capital murder trial in Harris County as of this posting.
In 1983 Fratta worked as a public safety officer in Missouri City, Texas. Public safety officers in Missouri City were cross trained as police officers and firefighters. Fratta married Farah that year and the couple had three children. The marriage soon soured as Farah learned of Fratta’s bizarre and perverse sexual demands which, according to A&E’s popular American Justice program, included feces consumption for sexual gratification. Fratta’s sexual perversions were documented at his first trial by a psychologist, friends of Farah, and friends of Fratta.
By March 1992 Farah could no longer endure the physical, emotional and sexual abuse Fratta was inflicting on her, she filed for a divorce. A divorce trial was set for November 1994. The couple underwent psychological evaluations to determine the parent most suited to be named conservator of the children. Once the divorce proceedings were underway, Fratta made it clear to a number of people that he wanted to see Farah dead. The gym where he worked out seemed to be the place he liked most to discuss his desire to either kill or have Farah killed. One of the cop’s work out acquaintances testified at the first trial that Fratta made comments about “putting some [9mm] slugs into Farah” following a fight with his wife.
He also liked to talk about killing Farah with his police buddies. One fellow Missouri police officer also testified about threatening comments Fratta had made to him about Farah. According to the officer, Fratta said “he would kill her (Farah) and he would be out in five years and get his kids back, but he wouldn’t pay her [child support payments].”
Fratta was an arrogant man. He believed the universe revolved around him. The power of good looks, muscular physique, and the authority of being a cop consumed any normal remnants of modesty. He was also a bitter, angry man. The one woman with whom he had shared all his intimate secrets and sexual perversions had come to detest him. He no longer had any power over her. He told another fellow police officer that “I just ought, I’ll kill her, and I’ll do my time and when I get out, I’ll have my kids.”
Fratta had another gym buddy named James Podhorsky who sometimes joined Fratta on excursions into Houston’s topless clubs. Podhorsky testified at trial that Fratta would carry a gun with him on these journeys into the city’s night life—something that didn’t sit well with Prodhorsky. He said Fratta told him that he [Fratta] carried the gun in case he ran into Farah at which time he would shoot her and make it look like a car jacking.
It’s amazing that Fratta could tell fellow cops and gym buddies that he wanted his wife dead and no one reported the threats to the police. But it gets even better than that. Fratta asked several other people if they knew anyone, particularly a black person, who would be willing to kill Farah. Two were women. One he met in a diner and the other he met through an online dating service. He even asked yet a third gym buddy if he knew anyone who would “knock [Farah] off.”
Yet on another occasion he and another fellow were discussing problems they were both having with their wives. Fratta suggested that the fellow officer kill Farah and he would kill the officer’s wife.
Most of these people would later say they did not report Fratta’s threats because they had not taken them seriously; that they thought he was joking or blowing off steam. Anytime a man starts talking about killing his wife, either to her directly or to other people, he will eventually carry out the threats. I’ve known a significant number of wife killers. They are all same: cowards. They have to pump themselves up into a killing fever before they can carry out the act. It’s one thing to kill a person in a fit of anger or rage, perhaps unintentionally, but it’s quite another to carry out the act personally. Fratta apparently never could crank up his nerve to do the ugly deed himself, so he had to find someone else to do his dirty work. Fratta became so desperate to find a contract killer that he pressed Prodhorsky, who was having financial problems, to do the killing. He tried to convince Prodhorsky with the warped theory that he had let so many people know he wanted Farah dead that when she finally was killed, the police would not know how to conduct their investigation because there would be too many leads.
On November 9, 1994, Fratta finally got the chance to put that warped theory into practice. He ate dinner with Farah and their three children at Wyatt’s Cafeteria. He then drove the three children to a Catholic church in Humble, Texas. He left two of them at the church’s nursery and took the oldest child to a catechism class. He then joined a church meeting set up for parents whose children were preparing for first communion. He was laying the groundwork for his alibi, even though he was not his normal cocky self and was drawing the attention of others at the church. One witness said he appeared “tense” when he dropped the children off at the nursery. Others witnesses said he kept leaving the parents meeting so he could make and answer phone calls in the parish office.
Farah was a beautiful young woman. While she was afraid of her husband, there is no indication that she suspected he would either kill her or have someone else do it. The last night of her life she left a beauty salon at around 7:45 p.m. after getting a haircut. She went straight home and pulled into the driveway close to 8:00 p.m. It was at this point that neighbors from across the street, who were watching television in their living and from which they had a view of Farah’s house, heard a shot. One of the neighbors heard a scream, rushed to the window, and saw Farah fall to the ground next to her vehicle. A few moments later the neighbor heard a second shot. Several minutes later she saw either a black man or someone dressed in black standing beside Farah’s house. Another witness reported seeing a similar type person. A few minutes later a car drove up in front of Farah’s house, the killer got into the vehicle, and the vehicle sped away. Neighbors called 911 and Farah was rushed to Hermann Memorial Hospital where she was pronounced dead in the emergency room.
The police quickly arrived at Farah’s house. One of the first officers there noticed Farah’s purse had not been touched. He knew it was not a robbery or a car jacking. Fratta arrived at the house half an hour or so later. He told one officer that “he was in a hurry and … wanted to expedite the matter” because he had his children with him. This blasé attitude would coincide with what investigators learned from other witnesses about Fratta’s odd behavior at the church earlier that evening. The police immediately absorbed the information that the husband showed no indication of sadness, surprise, much less concern. In fact, one detective observed that Fratta “seemed very confident, very composed [and] well in command of the situation.” This same detective questioned Fratta later that night and sensed the husband was not telling the truth. With Fratta’s consent, the detective searched Fratta’s vehicle in which he found more than a one thousand dollars in cash and a 9mm pistol
Fratta was detained in the homicide division at the police station for fourteen hours. He was questioned by several detectives—and while they all had their suspicions that he was involved in his wife’s death, they did not have probable cause to hold him. They let him go. The next day Fratta went to a tanning salon where Prodhorsky worked and told him: “if everybody keeps their mouth shut everything will be all right … [but] if shit ever hits the fan, just tell them that you went over there to scare her and the first bullet you shot that went by her head actually grazed her and then you got scared and that’s when you fired the second shot.” Prodhorsky was not stupid. He realized Fratta was trying to shift the investigation toward him.
While the investigation into Farah’s murder remained active, it was not until March 1995 that Harris County Sheriff Department investigator Danny Billingsley placed the focus of the investigation on Howard Guidry after he was arrested on March 1st for robbing a local bank. The arresting officers found a .38 caliber pistol in his back pack. A few days after the Guidry’s arrest, a woman named Mary Gipp told a sheriff department investigator that Guidry had been involved in Farah’s murder. The detective ran a registration check on the .38 and learned the pistol had been purchased by Fratta in 1982. Farah’s father also identified the weapon as the one Fratta had given him in 1993 for safekeeping and retrieved it in 1994. A ballistic expert also told investigators that one of the bullet fragments recovered in Farah’s garage had been fired by the .38, and while another fragment had been too damaged to link to a specific weapon, it was identified as the remnant of a .38 slug.
It didn’t take much of a police effort to get Guidry to confess. He told Billingsley that on the afternoon of November 9, 1994, he and a man named Joseph Prystash drove to Farah’s house in Prystash’s vehicle. The duo then went to a nearby grocery store. They made calls to a pay phone located at the store to determine if it received calls. Having determined that it could receive calls, Psystash drove Guidry back to Farah’s house and dropped him off. Guidry carried the .38 and a cell phone given to him by Prystash. He climbed a fence in Farah’s backyard where he waited in a play house for her to return home. After a period of time Guidry became nervous when Farah did not returned home. He called Prytrash at the pay phone. Prystash instructed the triggerman to stay put.
Shortly afterwards, Farah returned home and pulled into the garage. Guidry exited the play house and tried to open a side door to the garage. The door was locked, so he just stood outside and waited for Farah to exit the garage. When Farah opened the door, Guidry stepped inside and shot her in the head. He shot her a second time in the head because she was still moving after the first bullet struck her. Guidry then walked back to the play house where he called Prystash. He told Prytrash the job was done and to come pick him up. He then climbed back over the fence in the backyard and hid behind a bush near the garage until Prystash arrived. Guidry said he had expected to receive $1,000 as soon as the killing was done.
Guidry’s confession led to Prystash’s arrest. He also confessed. His confession pretty much tracked what Guidry had told the police. Psystash said the cell phone he gave to Guidry belonged to Mary Gipp. Prystash confirmed that Guidry was suppose to get a $1,000 for carry out the contract killing while he (Prystash) was suppose to get a couple thousand and a Jeep.
The detectives finally had enough evidence to arrest Fratta who was subsequently indicted for capital murder. The State’s case against Fratta rested on the prosecutorial theory Fratta had made arrangements through Prystash to have Farah killed. Prystash secured the killing services of Guidry. Mary Gipp knew all the players. She was Prystash’s girlfriend, and she knew both Fratta and Farah from the gym where she and Prytash worked out. She lived next door to Guidry and knew about the murder plot but did nothing about it. Prystash and Guidry were tried separately and convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die but they did not testify against Fratta. Gipp did. While she had known for some time that Fratta wanted his wife killed, and she suspected he was recruiting Prystash to do it, it was not until the weekend before the actual killing that she knew Prystash had agreed to take part in the plot. She told the jury that on the night of the murder Guidry and Prystash returned to her apartment where they unloaded two spent shells from the .38, threw them away, and Prystash told her Farah had been killed.
While the Fifth Circuit properly ruled that Fratta’s confrontation rights had been violated because Billingsley had testified at Fratta’s trial about portions of Guidry and Prystash’s confessions without him having an opportunity to cross examine the two, there is little room to doubt Fratta guilt in this case. Former Harris County prosecutor Kelly Seigler refused to cut a deal with Prystash to have him testify against either or both Fratta and Guidry. Now that both Prystash and Guidry are sitting on death row there is no incentive for either to cooperate with the prosecution and testify against Fratta at his current trial. One or both of them might eventually do so out of spite if they believe Fratta will walk free and leave them holding the bag.
Cases like Fratta’s make argument against the death penalty difficult. He is the poster boy for death penalty advocates —a cop who hires a couple of thugs to kill his wife because he does not want to pay her child support. He tortured the women when they lived together as husband and wife and decided to kill her when she would no longer be a willing participant in his sexual perversions or a victim of his physical abuse.
There are some who even advocate Fratta’s cause of innocence. But the murder connections are inescapable. Howard Guidry was arrested with the murder weapon on him—a weapon registered to Fratta. Guidry lived next door to Mary Gipp. She was Prystash’s girlfriend. Gipp and Prystash worked out at the same gym with the Frattas. There are a thousand other little odds and ends that create reasonable inferences of guilt against Fratta—like the repeated threats, for example—but it’s these murder connections that convince me he is guilty of having his wife killed.
.I know a little about the law. I understand Fratta’s constitutional right of confrontation was grossly violated by Seigler’s ruthless prosecutorial tactics. She knew she couldn’t use Guidry/Psystash’s confessions against Fratta without allowing him an opportunity to confront and cross examine them as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Instead of putting Guidry and Prystash on the witness stand, Seigler put Billingsley up there to testify about the two confessions; and while Billingsley never mentioned Fratta’s name, it was so clearly evident that Fratta had a right to cross examine both of them. Seigler could have made a deal with either or both Guidry and Prystash. She really didn’t try. She wanted three capital convictions and three death sentences to put in her death penalty hat.
If Robert Alan Fratta walks free, and some prominent legal experts are predicting he will, it will be because of Kelly Seigler putting her ruthless professional ambition before the realities of the case. The police did not have enough evidence to even arrest Fratta until they stumbled upon Guidry after his arrest for the bank robbery. Clearly, Seigler knew the only real provable connection between Fratta and the ruthless murder of her wife was through one or both of the murder participants. She didn’t do the deal.
The Fratta case personifies the corruption of the death penalty. It’s application is too often influenced by the political ambitions of pro-death penalty prosecutors. The whole time Seigler was pursuing death cases with former Harris County District Attorney Charles “Chuck” Rosenthal’s blessings, she had an obvious political ambition to one day be in Rosenthal’s chair and become the top prosecutor in the death penalty capital of America.
Personally, I think Robert Alan Fratta is despicable. As I’ve said, I’ve known many like him – wife killers, women abusers. They are no different on the social ladder than child molesters. But I don’t think he deserves to be executed by the State of Texas, anymore than I think any of the other inmates on death row should be executed. But his case still leaves a real bad taste in my mouth.