Farah Baquer Fratta - Murder
News Articles from the
Man quizzed in
estranged wife's death
Woman is slain in Atascocita
Investigation into the shooting
death of an Atascocita woman centered Thursday on her estranged
husband -- a law enforcement officer who detectives say refuses to
cooperate with them.
Farah Fratta, 33, was found in
the garage of her home in the 19600 block of Forest Fern about 9
p.m. on Wednesday, after neighbors who heard gunshots called for
help. Fratta was taken by Life Flight helicopter to Hermann
Hospital, where she died about 11:30 p.m. from at least one
gunshot wound to the head, officials said.
Witnesses told detectives they
saw a silver or gray car with a hatchback leaving Fratta's house
shortly after the gunshots were heard. The car had one headlight
and carried two men who appeared to be dressed in black, they said.
Fratta and her husband, 37-year-old
Robert Alan Fratta, are estranged, and detectives said the
couple's three children were with their father when the shooting
occurred. Fratta said he was taking the children to church at the
time. Detectives questioned him at length Thursday about the
shooting, and about $1,050 in an envelope in the glove box of his
car. Fratta, a public service officer in Missouri City, said the
money was for some repairs he was having made to his own home on
"It's extremely rough," Fratta
said of his ordeal Thursday. "I mean, I fully understand why I'm
their main suspect, but this makes a tough time a lot tougher. "All
I can do right now is hope they find who did it," Fratta said. "Then
this part of my ordeal will be over. "I haven't even had a chance
to talk to my kids yet," he said Thursday evening. "I was there
(at the sheriff's department homicide headquarters) all day."
Sheriff's department Sgt. John
Denholm said Thursday Fratta had an apparent motive for killing
his wife and refused to cooperate with detectives in the case.
Denholm admits to being frustrated by Fratta's uncooperative
stance. "He's just been real amused by this whole thing," the
officer told reporters. Fratta was released Thursday but remains
the focal point of the investigation, said Denholm.
Missouri City public safety Officer Robert Alan
Fratta, 37, being questioned in his estranged wife's murder, has
been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.
Farah Fratta, 33, was found shot in the head in the garage of her
Atascocita home Nov. 9.
Edition: 2 STAR
Parents of slain woman offer reward for
leads on her killer
The parents of a slain Atascocita mother of
three young children offered a $5,000 reward Tuesday for
information about her killer or killers. Farah Fratta, 33, was
found shot in the head in the garage of her home in the 19600
block of Forest Fern in north Harris County about 9 p.m. Nov. 9.
She died three hours later at Hermann Hospital.
"We have come here to ask through the media to
find the person who took the life away of my daughter," said Lex
Baquer, Fratta's father. "Whoever killed my daughter not only took
my daughter away but also took away the mother of three innocent
Fratta's parents, brother and sister-in-law
talked to the media from behind a table on which sat two framed
pictures: one of Fratta and one of her children, ages 8, 6 and 4.
Breaking into tears, Baquer pleaded for help in finding his
daughter's killer or killers, hoping the reward will help. "My
family will do just about everything to find the killer," he said.
Harris County Sheriff's detectives say they
know who is responsible. Fratta's estranged husband, Robert Alan
Fratta, a firefighter and public service officer in Missouri City,
is suspected of hiring killers to murder his wife, Sgt. Danny
Billingsley has said. Billingsley said Fratta has refused to
cooperate with detectives. Robert Alan Fratta has said he was
taking the children to church at the time of the shooting.
Witnesses told detectives they saw a silver or
gray car with a hatchback leaving Fratta's house shortly after
gunshots were heard. The car reportedly had one headlight and
carried two men who appeared to be dressed in black.
In addition to the family's $5,000 reward,
another $1,000 reward is being offered by Crime Stoppers of
Houston. Anyone with information should call Crime Stoppers at
222-TIPS or the Harris County homicide division at 967-5810.
Custody hearing today
A court hearing will be held today regarding
custody of the three children of Farah Fratta, 33, found shot to
death in the garage of her Atascocita home Nov. 9. A joint
temporary conservatorship of the children, 9, 6 and 4, was granted
to her estranged husband, Robert, and to her parents, Lex and
Betty Baquer. Fratta has daily visitation rights to see the
children while they are staying at their grandparents, said his
attorney, Ray Epps. Today, state District Judge A. Robert Hinojosa
is expected to grant a continuance until later this month in hopes
the slaying investigation, which has included questioning of
Fratta, will soon end.
Lawyers in custody case link man to wife's
Attorneys for the parents of a murdered
Atascocita mother told a judge Friday in a child custody hearing
that there is evidence that links the killing to the father, a
Missouri City firefighter and public safety officer. Ray Epps --
attorney for the father, Robert Alan Fratta -- sharply denied the
accusation made in a custody case involving the family's three
State District Judge A. Robert Hinojosa delayed
further court action until Dec. 15. He said he hopes the Harris
County Sheriff's Department investigation into the Nov. 9 killing
of Farah Fratta, 33, will be concluded.
Robert Fratta, 37, has been seeking custody of
the three children, ranging from 4 to 9 years of old. They now are
staying with his in-laws, Lex and Betty Baquer of Humble, who are
fighting for permanent custody. "I know that, whichever way I go
in this case, I am in error," Hinojosa said at the hearing. "But I
would rather err on the side of the children." The judge conceded
that he may "be committing a serious injustice" to the father, but
he was keeping the children with the grandparents "out of an
abundance of caution" until the conclusion of the criminal
Farah Fratta, 33, an airline ticket agent, was
shot in the garage of her home and died three hours later at a
hospital. Robert Fratta was taking the children to church at the
time. Investigators have said they suspect a murder-for-hire plot.
The parents of the slain woman have offered a $5,000 reward for
information in the case.
At the custody hearing, Epps emphasized that
the children themselves say Fratta has been a good father who
never harmed or threatened them. "Police officials say if Fratta
proves his innocence, they will back off," Epps said. "But that's
not according to the laws governing our country. He shouldn't have
to prove his innocence. This so-called "investigation' could go on
for years, and the damage will continue being done to the children.
Your honor, he has every right to his children," Epps said.
Christine Jonte, attorney for the Baquers, said
she believes that -- regardless of the outcome of the
investigation -- there is evidence to implicate the father to the
killing. Criminal cases require proof beyond a reasonable doubt
for a conviction. But for one side to prevail in civil cases, such
as custody trials, they only need to show a preponderence of
evidence. Jonte did not elaborate on what evidence has been
Witnesses say husband asked them to kill
Five witnesses in a child custody hearing
testified Wednesday that Missouri City public service officer
Robert Fratta asked them if they or others would take money to
kill his estranged wife. Most of those associates said they
thought Fratta was only kidding -- until they learned that Farah
Fratta, 33, was found murdered in her Atascocita home on Nov. 9.
The killing triggered a custody fight over the
three Fratta children, ages 4 to 8 years. Fratta, 37, who has not
been charged with any crime, wants custody of the children. They
now live with his wife's parents, Lex and Betty Baquer.
Testimony in the hearing, which resumes today,
covered Fratta's alleged search in posh body-building spas for
contract killers for $3,000. It also delved into accusations that
the law officer lusted for bizarre sexual activity -- both at the
Fratta home and in gay, lesbian, and transvestite haunts of
Houston. "He said he'd be better off if his wife was dead," said
John Ruiz, who said he had worked out with Fratta in gyms for
eight months. "He asked me if I would kill her, or if I knew
anyone else who would knock her off."
Jason Terry, manager of a southwest Houston
tanning salon, had known Fratta for more than four years when he
said Fratta approached him about committing the killing for
$3,000. "He felt because he was a police officer, I don't have to
worry about anything. He said we could set it up and handle it so
nobody would get caught," Terry said. Terry refused and said he
never saw Fratta again. "I won't tell you anything, because when
it happens you can't know anything about it."
Fratta began invoking the Fifth Amendment
against self-incrimination within minutes after the hearing
started before Family Court Judge Robert Hinojosa. Fratta attorney
Ray Epps objected strongly to his client's questioning by the
Baquers' attorney Elizabeth Jonte, saying the hearing was not a
criminal proceeding and that the allegations had no bearing on his
fitness as a father.
Fratta said his children want to be with him.
"I am a loving father," he said. The murder plots were just
products of his sense of humor, his attorney argued. That was
supported by roofer James Ray Thomas of Kingwood, one of those
approached by Fratta about a murder contract. "We just always joke
a lot together at the gym, so I took it jokingly," Thomas said. "We
were always laughing and cutting up."
Fratta has been on paid leave from his job as a
Missouri City police officer and firefighter. He was said to be
with the children at church during the time of the killings. His
alleged motive for the murder, witnesses said, was to end the 2-year-old
custody battle with his estranged wife and his accompanying child
support payments. "Her parents were rich, and they kept putting
money in to make the case go forward," said one-time Fratta
associate Alicia Barren, now of Santa Fe. "He didn't think he had
the finances to stay with it any longer and win." Barren said
Fratta was on a first-name basis with transvestite prostitutes she
knew and that he tried to get her into a sexual encounter with him
and another man.
Witnesses also told of Fratta allowing the
children to play with live ammunition. "It's no different than any
other little toy," he said.
Lex Baquer said he has tried to shield the
children from publicity. They only use the television now to play
video games or watch videotaped movies, he said. Baquer said he
has done nothing to drive the children away from their father. "We've
just said that their Daddy's helping catch the bad guys," the
grandfather said. "We've left it at that . . . They burn candles
and pray for their mother every night."
Judge rules Fratta not fit to keep children
Conduct, judgment called "impaired'
A judge Thursday awarded custody of three
children to their grandparents, finding that their father --
Missouri City public service officer Robert Fratta -- had
involvement in the killing of their mother. Family Court Judge
Robert Hinojosa lashed out at Fratta's character in ruling that
evidence implicated him as the murderer of his estranged wife,
Farah Fratta. She was killed in her Atascocita home on Nov. 9. "I
cannot imagine a more grievous harm to the children than for their
father to induce the death of their mother, who was raising them,"
Hinojosa said. "Your conduct and judgment is seriously impaired."
Immediately after Hinojosa's order, Fratta left
quickly and declined comment. The hearing has no criminal impact
on Fratta, 37, who has not been charged in the death of his 33-year-old
wife, who was an airline ticket sales agent.
One woman and four former body-building
associates of Fratta testified that he asked them -- usually in a
joking manner -- if they or others would kill his estranged wife.
Some were offered $3,000. More witnesses said Fratta had sought
unusual sex acts or made strange, lewd remarks to them. He has a
prior suspension for sexual harassment from his job as a Missouri
City police officer and firefighter, testimony showed. Fratta
currently is on paid leave from his job.
None of the ruling was based on the testimony
about Fratta's lust for lurid sexual encounters, including three-way
trysts, Hinojosa said. But the judge said that, in 23 years of
family oriented legal work, he had "never heard this degree of
depravity . . . and bizarre sexual behavior." He had primarily
invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination
in questioning about his activities or motives in the killing of
While the criminal case remains under
investigation, Fratta moved to regain custody and parental rights
over his children, ages 4 to 8 years. Since the mother's death,
the children have been staying with the victim's parents, Betty
and Lex Baquer. Originally from the Middle East, the Baquers are
British citizens who live in Houston.
The ruling sent the courtroom erupting into
tears of happiness for the couple and their many friends, all
wearing yellow ribbons in memory of Farah Fratta. The grandparents
hugged and wept. Betty Baquer cried and was comforted by her
husband. "He is a monster," she said of her former son-in-law. "It
was so very hard hearing how my daughter had to suffer and endure
her pain from this man."
Lex Baquer said: "It was a good decision. We
will do our very best to raise them as they should be raised -- as
good, honorable citizens of the U.S. They are in good hands."
Fratta was reported to be at church with the
children at the time his wife was gunned down in her garage. He
has refused to respond about alleged contract killers or his phone
calls or movements that night. Hinojosa also cited other factors
about Fratta's behavior that he found disturbing. The officer had
let the small children play with live ammunition, dismissing it as
no more harmful "than any other small toy," according to testimony.
When his son was bitten on the back by Fratta's three-foot python,
Fratta said he took the snake back to the pet shop and returned
with a more docile python, testimony showed. The children also had
access to Fratta's explicit sexual material, witnesses said. As
for nurturing love and care, "I don't think you understand what
that means," the judge said.
Fratta's attorney, Ray Epps, said there is no
avenue of appeal because the ruling is on temporary custody. That
can be challenged in a full trial on permanent custody, which is
not expected for more than a year. At requests of Christine Jonte,
Baquer's attorney, and Dennis Kelly, a court-appointed attorney
for the children, Fratta was ordered to pay $488 monthly in child
support to the Baquers. His gross monthly salary as a public
safety officer is about $2,000, his attorney said.
Health insurance also is to be maintained by
Fratta for the children. Mental evaluation tests showed the
youngsters remain fond of their father, although they have been
shielded from news of the criminal investigation. Hinojosa said
that shielding was to continue, with his ban on any comment to
them about the alleged complicity of their father. Supervised
visitation will continue every other Saturday, and daily 15-minute
phone calls are allowed.
Firing in Missouri City
Missouri City public safety Officer Robert Alan
Fratta, 37, was fired from his job in this Fort Bend County city.
Fire Chief Danny Jan said the city had suspended the officer with
pay Nov. 15 after Fratta was questioned in connection with the
Nov. 9 murder of his estranged wife at her Atascocita home. Last
week, a judge granted custody of the couple's children to the
parents of his wife, 33-year-old Farah Fratta.
Jan would not comment further on the reasons
for Fratta's firing Monday. A two-sentence statement on the
dismissal said only that Missouri City officials "determined it
was no longer appropriate for Mr. Fratta to continue working as a
public safety officer with the city at this time." Missouri City's
public safety officers perform both police and firefighting duties.
Fratta was hit target, police say/Man is
charged in planning death
A Huffman man was charged Friday with trying to
arrange the murder of Robert Fratta, a former Missouri City public
safety officer suspected of planning his wife's death. William
Edward Planter, was being held in Harris County Jail Friday night
in lieu of $20,000 bond. Planter, 47, is accused of trying to
enlist Fratta's father-in-law, Lex Baquer, Thursday in killing
Fratta. Robert Alan Fratta, 37, has been named as the prime
suspect in the death of his estranged wife, Farah Fratta.
Details of the alleged incident involving
Planter were unavailable Friday. Baquer could not be reached and
his attorney did not return calls. Fratta also did not return
calls. Fratta's attorney Richard Frankoff said late Friday that he
was concerned about authorities' failure to tell him or Fratta
about Planter's alleged attempt to arrange the slaying. "If this
was an effort to solicit someone to kill Bob Fratta . . . why
didn't they say, "Hey, Bob, there's somebody out there trying to
kill you'?" the lawyer asked.
Planter's arrest came two days after Baquer,
his wife and their grandchildren were relocated at the behest of
law enforcement officials who are investigating an alleged threat
against Lex Baquer. A family friend said the Baquers left their
home as a precaution out of fear Fratta was behind the threat
reported by Lex Baquer's secretary. The friend, who asked to
remain unidentified, said other thinly veiled threats had been
received by the couple since their daughter's death.
Robert Fratta "told people he wanted custody of
the children, because if somebody had killed their mother, they
might do something like that to her parents as well," the friend
said. Sources involved in the probe of Farah Fratta's death said
the threats to the secretary are under investigation, but there is
no indication that incident is connected to the slaying.
Farah Fratta, 33, was shot to death Nov. 9 in
her Atascocita home. Harris County Sheriff's Department detectives
have said Farah Fratta's killer was hired. Fratta had taken his
three children to church at the time of his estranged wife's death.
Farah Fratta and her estranged husband had been involved in a
heated custody battle over their three children, ages 4 to 8 years.
Lex and Betty Baquer took up the custody fight after their
daughter was slain, and a family court judge awarded them custody
of the children on Dec. 15.
During the hearing earlier this month,
acquaintances testified regarding Robert Fratta's search for
someone to kill his wife; on his apparent penchant for unusual
sexual activity; and on his allowing his children to play with
live ammunition and a three-foot python, which bit his son. Fratta
himself took the stand but answered few questions, instead
invoking his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination
in questioning about his activities or motives in the slaying of
The judge eventually awarded the three children
to their grandparents, finding that their father had been involved
in the killing of their mother. At the same time, the judge agreed
the children could have supervised visits every other Saturday
with their father. The judge's finding had no criminal impact on
Fratta, who is not charged in connection with the death. Fratta
was fired Tuesday from his job as a public safety officer in
Missouri City, where he had been on paid leave since Nov. 15, when
he was named as a suspect in the death.
Former deputy's motives unknown/Offer to
kill suspect probed
A former law enforcement officer charged with
offering to kill the prime suspect in a murder investigation
apparently did not know the people involved, and the motive for
the alleged offer still is unknown, detectives said Wednesday.
William Edward Planter, 47, was charged last week with trying to
enlist the aid of Lex Baquer in killing Robert Alan Fratta, the
former husband of Baquer's daughter and prime suspect in her death.
Planter, who posted a $20,000 bond in the case, did not return
calls to his Spring home Wednesday.
Harris County Sheriff's Department Sgt. John
Denholm said no apparent connection between Planter and either the
Fratta or Baquer families had been found, and it was unknown why
Planter allegedly approached Baquer a week ago and asked the man
to help him kill Fratta.
Fratta has been named as a suspect in the Nov.
9 death of his estranged wife, Farah Fratta, at her home in
Atascosita. Fratta and the couple's three children were at church
at the time of the murder, which sheriff's detectives say was a
hired killing. The estranged couple had been involved in a heated
custody battle regarding the children and after their daughter's
death, Lex and Betty Baquer took up that battle in court. On Dec.
21, a judge awarded custody of the children to the Baquers,
finding that Fratta was involved in his wife's death. That ruling
had no criminal impact on Fratta, who is not charged in the
Fratta, himself a former law officer, was fired
Dec. 21 by the Missouri City Police Department. Planter was a
Harris County sheriff's deputy from 1973 to 1975. He was chief of
police in Splendora from 1978 to 1979, and chief of police in
Roman Forest from 1979 to 1982. In 1984, Planter made an
unsuccessful bid for Precinct 4 constable's against current
Constable Dick Moore. Planter also operated Planter's Safes, a
safe manufacturing company.
Planter, who is charged with contacting Lex
Baquer Dec. 22 and offering to help him arrange Robert Fratta's
death, was arrested Friday. Details of the encounter between
Baquer and Planter were not available Wednesday. Sources said
Planter has operated for years on the "fringes" of law enforcement,
and may have made the offer out of some misguided sense of justice
or public service.
2 charged in murder-for-hire scheme
Two men were charged with capital murder Monday
in what investigators say was a murder-for-hire scheme to kill
Farah Fratta, the wife of a former Missouri City law enforcement
officer. One of the accused, Joseph Andrew Prystash, is a former
workout partner of Robert Alan Fratta, who authorities suspect
arranged the Nov. 9 shooting death of his estranged wife. "He (Robert
Fratta) is still a suspect and he has not been eliminated from
this investigation whatsoever," said Harris County Homicide Lt.
A.R. Diaz. "We have reason to believe it is in fact a murder for
Charged along with Prystash, 38, 15469 Songwood
in Conroe, was Howard Paul Guidry, 18, 20430 Imperial Valley in
Houston. They were being held without bond in the Harris County
Jail. Robert Fratta, 37, was fired from his job as a Missouri City
law enforcement officer shortly after the slaying. Other suspects
may be charged in the case, Diaz said. "Our work is not done,"
Diaz said. "Until this investigation is completely resolved . . .
we're not going to all be happy."
Farah Fratta, 33, was shot to death Nov. 9 in
her Atascocita home after returning from a workout at a local
health club. Robert Fratta, who had been involved in a heated
custody battle with his wife over their three children, ages 4 to
8 years, had taken them to church that night. "Bob Fratta has
always professed his innocence," said his attorney Richard
Frankoff. "He is not running. He is not hiding." Frankoff said
Fratta continues to live in southwest Harris County near Missouri
Diaz said detectives have been conducting an
intense investigation since the murder and recently were able to
persuade friends of Prystash and Guidry to talk to detectives.
Witnesses have told detectives Prystash had been bragging about
the slaying. Diaz described Fratta and Prystash as friends who
used to lift weights together.
Frankoff, Robert Fratta's attorney, said the
Frattas and Prystash all worked out at the same gym but he said he
did not think they ever socialized with one another. Diaz said
Prystash was hired to do the killing and enlisted the help of
Guidry. Prystash was arrested Monday as he was driving in the 8300
block of the North Belt. He has not confessed or given a statement
to authorities. Guidry has been in jail for the past two weeks on
a bank robbery charge. He is accused of robbing the Klein Bank in
the 18300 block of Kuykendahl on March 1. Diaz said Guidry has
been "semi-cooperative" in the Fratta murder investigation.
Although Prystash and Guidry have criminal
histories, neither has ever been accused in an assault-type crime,
Diaz said. Detectives have what they believe is the murder weapon,
a .357-caliber revolver, but Diaz would not comment on who they
believe the trigger man was. Diaz said money was offered to the
men for the killing. "It was more than $1,000 but less than
$10,000," Diaz said. "But I am not going to comment on who got
In December a judge awarded custody of the
children to Farah Fratta's parents, Lex and Betty Baquer, finding
that Robert Fratta was involved in his wife's death. That ruling
had no criminal impact on Fratta, who is not charged in the
killing. During the custody hearing, acquaintances testified that
Robert Fratta had searched for someone to kill his wife. They also
testified that he had a penchant for unusual sexual activity and
had allowed his children to play with live ammunition and a three-foot
After the December hearing, Lex Baquer was
approached by a former law enforcement officer who offerred to
arrange the slaying of Robert Fratta. Charged with solicitation of
murder was Edward Planter, 47, a Harris County sheriff's deputy
from 1973 to 1975, chief of police in Splendora from 1978 to 1979,
and chief of police in Roman Forest from 1979 to 1982.
Gun discovery tied to victim's husband
A gun found in the home of one of two suspects
in the alleged hired killing of Farah Fratta was traced back to
her estranged husband, Robert, sources said Tuesday. A girlfriend
of suspect Joseph Andrew Prystash, 38, of 15469 Songwood in Conroe
apparently obtained information about that weapon for detectives.
Prystash and Howard Paul Guidry, 18, of 20430 Imperial Valley are
charged with capital murder in the Nov. 9 shooting of Farah Fratta,
39, at her Atascocita home. Prystash, on parole from an Alabama
burglary conviction, was a friend of Robert Fratta, a former
Missouri City public service officer, and they worked out at the
same gym, detectives said.
Fratta, who has maintained his innocence, has
complained of the way the Sheriff's Department has handled the
case. Detectives say Fratta remains a suspect. "It will be over
when it is over," Lex Baquer, father of Farah Fratta, said Tuesday.
He said he and wife, Betty, who won custody of their two
grandchildren after their daughter's death, are happy with the
arrests, but are waiting. "Justice will be done," Baquer said. "The
Sheriff's Department has done their job very well, and it was a
very complicated case."
Detectives have speculated a heated custody
dispute sparked Farah Fratta's death. "The biggest losers in this
game are the innocent children," her father said Tuesday. "They
are going through this pain for the rest of their lives."
Prystash, who listed his occupation as a
student at Universal Technical Institute, was questioned shortly
after the shooting, and complained to the FBI that sheriff's
officers had roughed him up. The U.S. Department of Justice's
civil rights division investigated the complaint and wrote
Sheriff's Department internal affairs division Capt. Juan Jorge
that it found no basis for it.
Guidry, jailed two weeks ago on charges of
robbing the Klein Bank in the 18300 block of Kuykendahl on March
1, has cooperated in the murder investigation to a degree, said
detectives. They said he is a possible suspect in the Feb. 8
robbery of an Omnibank in the 4600 block of South Wayside in which
an off-duty Houston police officer was attacked with an electronic
stun gun and disarmed. Guidry, who moved here from Louisiana last
year, had no criminal record prior to the Klein bank robbery,
Prystash, arrested Monday, has not given a
statement. His record also includes a theft charge and auto theft
Fratta set to face contempt charges
Robert Fratta, suspected of hiring two hit men
to kill his estranged wife, is to return to court today to face
charges of contempt of court for allegedly failing to support his
three children. Fratta was engaged in a custody dispute with his
wife, Farah, 33, when she was gunned down at her Atascocita home
Her parents, Lex and Betty Baquer, won
temporary custody of their grandchildren in December after
testimony convinced Family Court Judge Robert Hinojosa that Fratta
was involved in the death. There was also testimony about what
Hinojosa called Fratta's "depravity . . . and bizarre sexual
behavior," as well as his letting his children play with bullets
and a python that bit his son.
Two men have been charged with capital murder
in Farah Fratta's death, but Robert Fratta has not been charged.
Hinojosa had ordered him to pay $488 monthly in child support to
the Baquers and to maintain health insurance for his children.
Lex Baquer said Wednesday that Fratta has done
neither for three months, although the children are still making
15-minute phone calls to their father daily as ordered by the
court. Fratta earned about $2,000 a month as a Missouri City
public safety officer but was fired shortly after the custody
hearing and apparently is not working now.
Fratta ordered to pay $3,000 in child
A judge found Robert Fratta in contempt
Thursday for refusing to pay child support while he held $23,000
for attorney fees for his defense against expected charges of
having his estranged wife murdered. State District Judge Georgia
Dempster said she would have the fired Missouri City police
officer jailed if he did not pay $3,000 in fees related to court-ordered
child support. Dempster ordered payment by 5 p.m. today.
Fratta, 37, told the judge he expected to be
indicted for the Nov. 9 killing of Farah Fratta in the garage of
her Atascocita home. "I've had a lot of death threats," Fratta
said. "I didn't know what was going to happen to me."
Two men were charged Monday with what Harris
County Sheriff's Department investigators said was the murder-for-hire
plot. Arrested were Howard Paul Guidry, 18, of Houston, and Joseph
Andrew Prystash, 38, of Conroe. Prystash was a former body-building
workout partner of Fratta. In a hearing last December involving
custody of the three Fratta children, four other former iron-pumping
associates of Fratta testified he asked if they knew anyone who
could kill his wife. Most of them said they thought he was joking.
Betty and Lex Baquer, parents of the dead woman,
were awarded custody of the children, two boys and one girl
ranging from 4 to 8 years old. The youngsters had been living with
their mother when she was killed. Then-Judge Robert Hinojosa said
the evidence -- applicable in the custody proceeding -- implicated
Fratta in the killing. Fratta was to pay $488 monthly in child
support to the grandparents, beginning Jan. 1. "Instead, he didn't
pay one penny toward their support," said Baquer attorney
Dennis Kelly, court-appointed attorney for the
children, said the continuing investigation has made it difficult
for the Baquers to comply with another Hinojosa edict -- keeping
publicity of the case from the children. "They have done their
best to comply, but it is getting harder on them," Kelly said
after the session. "They've been attempting to say he was one of
the good guys, trying to catch those who did that to their mother.
But now they are facing tough questions from the kids -- "Is Daddy
one of the bad guys?' "
The ruling Thursday requires Fratta to pay
$1,464 in owed support payments -- $1,000 to the Baquers for their
legal fees, $517 in required insurance for the children, plus
court costs for the contempt action. He began the hearing pleading
poverty. Fratta said his only gross weekly income is about $250 in
unemployment compensation, and that he lives in a house owned by
his sister and mother.
Kelly and Jonte, however, noted that he still
has two automobiles -- a Volkswagen and Jeep -- which Fratta says
are driven by his relatives. He argued that the sale of the
couple's former home should satisfy his support debts, but Jonte
said he holds none of the equity. His estranged wife had made all
the payments on the mortgage, up to her death. About $700 was tied
up in Fratta's mail-order cosmetics business, he said. Four credit
card companies have turned down his applications, he said. However,
Kelly and Jonte brought up the $23,600 he received after his
dismissal from the Missouri City Police Department. That came from
cashing in his retirement plan, and unused vacation and sick-leave
Fratta attorney Ray Epps argued that the
current legal limbo for Fratta makes him an unlikely candidate for
employment. However, Lex Baquer scoffed at that. "He said in the
last hearing that he loved the children and would do anything for
them," their grandfather said. "If that's how he truly felt, he
would be washing cars or dishes, or even scrubbing floors for them.
I wanted to see him go to jail for what he has done."
Fratta pays court-ordered support for his 3
Robert Fratta paid court-ordered support for
his three children after facing contempt charges for refusing to
pay the amount while he held $23,000 for his defense on expected
murder charges. State District Judge Georgia Dempster had told
Fratta on Thursday he would be jailed if he did not pay $3,000 in
child support and related fees by 5 p.m. Friday. He paid the
amount Thursday afternoon.
Fratta, 37, a former Missouri City public
safety officer, told the judge he expects to be indicted for the
Nov. 9 killing of his wife, Farah. Two men were charged Monday
with what investigators said was a murder-for-hire plot.
Betty and Lex Baquer, parents of the dead woman,
were awarded custody of the children. Fratta had been ordered to
pay $488 monthly in child support to the grandparents, beginning
Jan. 1. Dempster ordered him Thursday to pay $1,464 in owed
support, $1,000 to the Baquers for their legal fees, $517 in
required insurance for the children, plus court costs. Fratta
received $23,600 after his firing. That came from cashing in his
retirement plan and unused vacation and sick leave time.
Contempt charges lifted
Robert Fratta, the former Missouri City safety
officer under investigation in the killing of his estranged wife,
has been cleared of contempt after paying $3,000 in back child
support and legal fees. State District Judge Georgia Dempster had
threatened to jail Fratta on Monday.
Fratta charged with arranging wife's death
Former Missouri City public safety officer
Robert Fratta was arrested Friday and charged with arranging the
murder of his estranged wife. Fratta was being held without bond
on a solicitation of murder charge stemming from the Nov. 9
shooting death of Farah Fratta, who was seeking a divorce and
custody of their three children.
Last month, Joseph Andrew Prystash, a 38-year-old
Alabama parolee and work-out buddy of Robert Fratta, and Howard
Paul Guidry, 18, also an accused bank robber, were arrested and
charged in the killing.
About 5:30 p.m. Friday, Fratta, 38, was taken
into custody without incident at his northeast Harris County home,
5330 Deer Timbers Trail. "I didn't do it," Fratta said, his hands
cuffed and ankles chained as he was led from the Sheriff's
Department homicide offices to a car for the ride to jail. "I'm
praying for justice."
Homicide investigators secured the arrest
warrant for Fratta after their month-long effort to strike a deal
with Prystash apparently failed to secure his promise to testify
against Fratta. Detectives said they have an abundance of evidence
showing that Fratta hired Prystash to kill his wife, and that
Guidry was recruited by Prystash to help. Officials close to the
investigation said the case was broken in mid-March when
Prystash's girlfriend obtained information about a pistol in
Prystash's house. Detectives traced the weapon back to Robert
The delay in arresting Fratta came while
prosecutors and investigators tried to make a deal with Prystash,
obtaining his testimony against Fratta in return for leniency in
his own case. The most recent of many meetings among Prystash,
prosecutors and investigators took place Thursday, but sources
said authorities were unwilling to give Prystash the amount of
leniency he wanted in return for his testimony.
Those sources said also that as the
investigation, and the dealings with Prystash, wore on, evidence
against Fratta grew to the point where they believed they no
longer needed Prystash's testimony. They said also that, as
evidence in the case continues to accumulate, there is a good
possibility the charges against Fratta will be upgraded to capital
murder, which carries the death penalty.
Farah Fratta, an airline ticket agent, was shot
to death in the garage of her Atascocita home on Forest Fern by
two men who evidently were waiting to ambush her. Fratta, who was
fired by Missouri City shortly after his ex-wife's death, had
taken their three children to church on the night their mother was
killed -- an event acquaintances said was out of character. Robert
and Farah Fratta had been involved for some time in a bitter
custody battle over the children. Farah Fratta's parents, Lex and
Betty Baquer, now have custody of their grandchildren. "He is
truly psychotic," said Lex Baquer, expressing relief that Fratta
was in custody. "I just want him off the streets, so I can sleep
and talk and breathe freely again."
Even after the death of his children's mother,
Robert Fratta fought for custody of the children. Testimony at a
custody hearing in December centered around Robert Fratta's
penchant for strange sexual liaisons and exotic pets, like a large
snake that bit his son. Early this week, Fratta took the Baquers
back to court seeking to have the court-ordered child-support
payments reduced. Fratta complained that publicity surrounding his
wife's murder had ruined his reputation and made it impossible for
him to work. He failed to sway a judge.
Friday, dressed in a muscle shirt and beige
shorts, Fratta seemed subdued compared to earlier days in the
lengthy investigation when he acted with disdain at suspicions of
his involvement in the slaying. "He's not quite so cocky now," one
detective said as Fratta was led away to the Harris County Jail.
Fratta denied bond
A judge Monday refused to grant bond to a
former Missouri City public safety officer charged with soliciting
the Nov. 9 capital slaying of his estranged wife at her Atascocita
home. Visiting state District Judge Woody Densen ordered Robert
Alan Fratta, 38, returned to Harris County Jail without bond.
Fratta was arrested Friday on charges of offering $3,000 to an
acquaintance to kill his wife, Farah, an airline ticket agent. Two
other men have been charged in her shooting.
Bond set for ex-official
A judge Thursday set a $100,000 bond for a
former Missouri City public safety officer charged with soliciting
the Nov. 9 capital slaying of the mother of his three children.
Robert Alan Fratta, 38, would have to pay $10,000 to $15,000 to
put up the bond set by visiting state District Judge Woody Densen.
It would last only until month's end, when Harris County grand
jurors are expected to indict Fratta. If he is, Densen said,
Fratta will likely return to a no-bond status.
Ex-officer indicted in plot to kill wife/2
others charged in fulfilling murder
Former Missouri City public safety officer
Robert Fratta was indicted Friday on capital charges for
soliciting the murder of his wife. Jurors also indicted Joseph
Andrew Prystash and Howard Paul Guidry for capital murder for
killing Farah Fratta at her husband's bidding.
Fratta, 38, has been jailed since April 21 when
authorities secured enough evidence to charge him with arranging
the shooting of his estranged wife, who was seeking a divorce and
wanted custody of their three children. The evidence against
Fratta has mounted steadily since Farah Fratta, 33, was found shot
to death Nov. 9 in the garage of the couple's Atascosita home,
investigators said. Fratta said he was taking his children to
church at the time of the shooting and has repeatedly denied being
involved in his wife's death.
After her death, Farah Fratta's parents, Lex
and Betty Bacquer, resumed the custody fight.
Testimony in subsequent hearings provided
detectives with the grist to build a criminal case against Fratta.
Witnesses characterized Fratta as someone who frequently indulged
in deviant sexual activity and was careless with reptiles and live
ammunition around his children. Fratta's body-building and tanning
salon friends testified they were offered $3,000 to kill his wife.
Fratta lost custody and shortly afterward
authorities began leaning on Prystash, a 38-year-old Alabama
parolee, and his out-of-work buddy, Guidry, an 18-year-old accused
bank robber. A series of anonymous tips led authorities to
Prystash and Guidry. A .38-caliber pistol believed to be the
murder weapon was recovered from Prystash's house and traced back
Fratta hit with murder indictment
Former Missouri City public safety officer
Robert Fratta, charged nine weeks ago with conspiring to kill his
estranged wife, was indicted Wednesday on a charge of capital
murder in her Nov. 9 shooting death. The indictment, which
Fratta's attorney said is based on grand jury testimony from a so-called
"jailhouse snitch," accuses Fratta with hiring two men to kill
Robert Fratta, 38, has been in jail without
bond since April 21 on a solicitation of murder charge. "He is
indicted specifically for hiring those that did the killing,"
prosecutor Casey O'Brien said. "The difference is that he is now
appropriately charged. He was charged (in April) with soliciting
someone other than the killer . . . and was indicted (Wednesday)
again for succeeding." O'Brien said the additional indictment does
not mean that Fratta was present for the slaying, only that he
allegedly instigated the fatal shooting which allegedly was
carried out by Joseph Andrew Prystash and Howard Paul Guidry.
Prystash, a 38-year-old Alabama parolee, and Howard Paul Guidry,
18, an accused bank robber, were indicted on charges of killing
Farah Fratta. They are in the Harris County jail.
Defense attorney Richard Frankoff said he
believes Fratta is in a well-planned set-up. "We think it is a
very weak case based upon some very flaky witnesses," Frankoff
said. The original solicitation charge is based on information
from a less than credible witness, Frankoff said, adding that the
capital murder charge resulted from sending a "snitch" to get
close to Fratta in jail. "A jailhouse snitch, the trash of the
trash," Frankoff said. "These guys are unbelievable. They make up
stories as they go."
O'Brien declined to respond to Frankoff's
allegation. "I am not going to make any comments about what my
evidence is," O'Brien said.
Fratta granted $350,000 bond in shooting
Former Missouri City public safety officer
Robert Fratta was granted a $350,000 bond Thursday on charges
involving the Nov. 9 contract killing of his wife. The negotiated
bond set by state District Judge Joe Kegans aborted an hour's-long
hearing during which defense attorneys had hoped to question state
witnesses against their client Fratta, who has been in Harris
County Jail since April 21. Previously Fratta, 38, had been jailed
without bond in the shooting death of Farah Fratta, 33, killed in
the garage of her home by two men allegedly hired by her estranged
Even though Kegans set a $250,000 bond on the
capital charge and a $100,000 bond on the solicitation of capital
murder case, Fratta's lawyers and relatives said there is only a "slim"
chance of him being released. "We'll try, but I don't know at this
point," his sister, Jill Fratta, said. Defense attorney Richard
Frankoff said one reason Fratta cannot post bond is because he was
ordered in a domestic relations court to pay $9,800 in child
support for his three children just before his arrest on the
solicitation case. "We think it was done that way because they
wanted to drain him of all his resources so he couldn't raise a
proper defense," Frankoff said.
Not so, prosecutor Casey O'Brien responded. "The
sheriff's office waited until I told them to arrest him," O'Brien
said. "They'd have arrested him at the drop of a hat." Fratta
never appeared in court while the bond amount was being negotiated
by O'Brien and defense lawyers Frankoff and Mike Charlton. Had the
hearing gone its full course, O'Brien would have had to parade a
series of crucial prosecution witnesses, including a jailhouse
informant, into court to testify.
Testimony to begin in capital murder trial
Fratta allegedly arranged wife's slaying
Prosecutors will begin presenting the first of
40 witnesses today in the capital murder trial of former Missouri
City public service officer Robert Fratta, accused of arranging
the killing of his estranged wife. If the 10 men and two women of
the jury agree that it was Robert Fratta who hired two men to
shoot Farah Fratta to death, the state will seek the maximum
punishment - death by injection.
The body of Farah Fratta, 33 and the mother of
three children, was found in the garage of her Atascocita home
Nov. 9, 1993. Witnesses saw a small car leaving the scene and two
men dressed in black inside. Fratta, who says he is innocent, said
he was at church with the couple's children at the time.
Detectives said they believed Fratta was behind the killing,
motivated by his desire to end a two-year custody battle with his
estranged wife and the accompanying child support payments. It
took more than two years for charges to be filed against him, but
Fratta continued his fight for the children.
His self-indulgent, vanity-driven lifestyle was
dissected in December 1994 in a civil court, where he went to
fight his former in-laws over custody of the children. Family
Court Judge Robert Hinojosa heard testimony from a number of
witnesses, mostly former body-building partners of Fratta's who
said he solicited their help in killing his wife when he was not
seeking to satisfy strange sexual pursuits. Others said Fratta
allowed his children to play with large, biting snakes and with
ammunition. Hinojosa denied Robert Fratta custody of the children
and declared he believed Fratta had his wife killed.
Within weeks, Fratta found himself on the
receiving end of a murder-for-hire scheme. Huffman resident
William Planter allegedly approached Farah Fratta's parents, Lex
and Betty Baquer, with an offer to kill Fratta. That case is
In March 1995, authorities announced the
arrests of two men they say killed Farah Fratta. Joseph Andrew
Prystash, a former workout partner of Fratta's, is alleged to have
enlisted the help of Howard Paul Guidry in the killing.
Authorities said they were promised an undisclosed sum of money
for their services. Prystash and Guidry also have been charged
with capital murder. Their cases have not come to trial.
Defense attorney Mike Charlton was reluctant to
discuss the Fratta case Monday, as was prosecutor Kelly Siegler.
Both will make opening statements to a jury that convenes in state
District Judge Joe Kegan's court.
Lex Baquer said he and his wife are "letting
the case take its natural course." "Obviously, we do have a lot of
pain for the wrong that was done," he said. "There is not a moment
that I don't think of her. I cry for her every day. I can't bring
her back, but I hope justice will prevail."
Fratta trial turns lurid on first day
Deviant sexual acts reportedly sought
Farah Fratta gave her husband Robert almost
everything he wanted: Three kids, her devotion and a body sculpted
by surgeons to please him. But when she chose divorce rather than
bend to her husband's pressure to engage in deviant sex acts, or
to accept an "open" marriage, he had her killed, according to
testimony on the first day of Fratta's capital murder trial
In her opening statement, prosecutor Kelly
Siegler promised that the 40 witnesses the state intends to call
would show them "what Bob Fratta is all about." "He wanted an open
marriage, meaning he could date other women," she said. "He made
disgusting, revolting sexual demands she could not meet."
The defense did not make an opening statement
Tuesday. Fratta, a former Missouri City public safety officer,
apparently insisted years ago that his wife undergo cosmetic
surgery to alter her breasts and nose, according to testimony. In
March 1992, after almost 10 years of marriage, Farah Fratta
decided she had had enough and sought a divorce. In response, her
husband declared, "She'll never divorce me. She's mine and I'm not
going to let someone else have what I paid for," Siegler said.
This was when Fratta, 33, began planning the
slaying of his wife, Siegler said. The prosecutor said evidence
against Fratta will include phone records linking him to Joseph
Prystash and Howard Paul Guidry, the alleged go-between and
accused triggerman, respectively. They are still awaiting trial.
Other witnesses will testify that the gun used
to kill Farah Fratta was purchased by her husband years ago and
was used by Guidry in a bank robbery after the killing, she said.
As one witness after the next took the stand Tuesday to portray
Robert Fratta as an arrogant, cold and sexually deviant husband,
he kept a serious, but sometimes quizzical, look on his face.
The jury of 10 men and two women heard how the
couple met while working as ticket agents for American Airlines
and were married in 1983. At the time of her death on Nov. 9,
1994, her sons Bradley and Daniel were 7 and 5, and daughter Amber
James Beeler, an attorney who had represented
Farah Fratta, said her husband spoke openly about his boredom with
traditional marital sex and was explicit in his desires to see his
wife in lesbian or three-way affairs. He said Farah Fratta's main
reason for wanting a divorce was his relentless effort to get her
to perform disgusting sexual acts, said Beeler. Beeler conceded to
defense attorney Mike Charlton that wild accusations are
commonplace in bitter divorces.
A Humble hairdresser recounted how, on the day
she was killed, Farah Fratta dashed in for a quick trim and raced
home with wet hair to meet her kids by 8 p.m.
Bradley Robert Fratta, 9, took the stand and
offered a stoic but wrenching account of what happened next. He
said he and his father pulled up to the house and saw that it was
surrounded by yellow crime scene tape. Bradley, who resembles his
father, said he and his siblings had gone to their father's house
that day and fed their pets - Todd the iguana, Cleopatra the
python, Nikki the dog and Prissy the cat - while their dad made
some phone calls. He recalled his father being paged while they
ate dinner. The calls are significant because they are believed to
have been between Fratta and Prystash. The children went to a
church class, Bradley testified, before returning home and finding
that their mother had been killed.
Several jurors dabbed away tears.
When defense attorney Charlton took over the
questioning, Bradley smiled and waved to his father. When
testimony resumes today, jurors will be led down the investigative
path that ended in Robert Fratta's arrest.
Gun tied Fratta to slaying, police say
Officers say husband was always a suspect
Officers suspected public service officer
Robert Fratta in his wife's killing, but had little to link him
until a bank robber was found carrying Fratta's gun, witnesses
said. Farah Fratta's accused hired killers, Joseph Prystash and
Howard Guidry, had little in common but an apartment complex,
criminal minds and a smoking habit, according to testimony in
Robert Fratta's capital murder trial.
Harris County sheriff's deputies testified they
suspected her husband in her slaying but had little to link him
until Guidry was captured after a March 1, 1995, bank robbery.
Detective Danny Billingsly said that shortly after Guidry was told
the gun he was caught with was registered to Robert Fratta, he
began recounting the events leading up to the Nov. 9, 1994,
Testimony indicated Farah Fratta, 33, a mother
of three small children, was being driven from her marriage by her
husband's insatiable sexual perversions. He was determined not to
have to pay child support and fought her for custody, witnesses
Though testimony indicated Fratta had talked
for months about killing his wife, the catalyst to carry it out
seemed to be an upcoming court appearance in which a judge was
expected to rule against him. Prystash, a former workout partner
of Fratta's, was apparently one of a number of people solicited to
kill Farah Fratta, according to testimony.
Officers gave this testimony Wednesday and
Thursday: Guidry said Prystash, his neighbor, offered him $1,000
to be the triggerman. Armed with pagers, cellular phones and a gun
provided by Fratta, they set out in the hours before the killing
to test the equipment. The two used a pay phone to make sure their
phones were working, then Prystash drove Guidry to the Frattas'
nearby home. He left Guidry there in the dark, then left to await
word the murder had been carried out. Guidry scaled the back fence
and lay in wait in a child's playhouse.
About 8 p.m., Farah Fratta pulled into the
driveway. As Fratta left her car, Guidry closed in and shot her
once, then shot her again at close range after she screamed.
Prystash then got a call. "It's done," Guidry said. The two men
pulled away before officers arrived. They were arrested four
months later. Fratta was charged shortly thereafter. Guidry and
Prystash are awaiting trial.
Fratta planned to shoot wife himself,
After searching for someone to kill his wife,
Robert Fratta said he planned to shoot her himself and fake it to
look like a carjacking, one of Fratta's former workout partners
testified Friday. The remark reportedly came before Farah Fratta,
33, was gunned down Nov. 9, 1994, at her Atascocita home, while
her husband was at a Catholic church in Humble. Afterward, Robert
Fratta claimed ignorance of why she was slain, even though it had
become widely known that he wanted her shot, witness Jimmy
Podhorsky, a tree-service worker who knew
Fratta from health spa workout sessions, said his friend began
telling "all sorts of far-fetched stories" about who was
responsible for Farah Fratta's killing. Fratta, a former Missouri
City public safety officer, even claimed that one of her relatives
did it to collect insurance money. But the moment he heard
Fratta's wife was dead, Podhorsky said outside the courtroom, he
knew her estranged husband was responsible.
Fratta sounded out many people while seeking an
assassin, testimony suggested, including another body-builder,
Mike Edens, 33, a Continental Airlines worker who bought a
nonsteroid protein drink from Fratta. Edens indicated that Fratta
hounded him to find someone to "knock my wife off." "I told him I
couldn't find anybody," Edens testified, adding that he said it to
"get him off my back."
Testimony in the trial has indicated that
Fratta wanted his wife killed because of a bitter child-custody
dispute that he was on the verge of losing, and because he didn't
want to have to pay child support. "I didn't take him too serious,"
Edens said of Frattah's comments. "When you heard Farah Fratta had
been shot, how did you feel?" prosecutor Kelly Siegler asked. "Shocked,"
Fratta faces a possible death penalty if
convicted of capital murder. Witnesses have detailed how Farah
Fratta complied with her husband's demands to alter her body with
surgery and listened to his repeated requests that she engage in
bizarre sexual acts.
Prosecutors devoted much of their efforts
Friday to witnesses describing how Fratta was at a Catholic church
in Humble when his wife was slain at her home, and how he was
constantly on the phone during the service. Evidence was
introduced of more than a dozen calls Fratta made between 4:26
p.m. and 8:28 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1994, many of them checking for
messages left for him and allegedly to the gunmen.
Farah Fratta's accused hired killers, Joseph
Prystash and Howard Guidry, await prosecution on parallel capital
murder charges in the case.
Witness in Fratta trial tells about shell
The girlfriend of the man accused of helping
arrange the killing of Farah Fratta told a jury Monday that she
watched him return home after the shooting and unload spent shell
casings from his revolver. In often hesitant testimony, Mary Gipp,
an office manager, said she asked her housemate, Joseph Andrew
Prystash, if Fratta, 33, was dead. He replied that she was. "He
said that Howard (Guidry) was waiting for her at the garage and
that he (Guidry) shot her once in the head and then he drew back
and shot her again," she testified.
She was the prosecution's final witness against
Robert Fratta, who faces a possible death penalty if convicted of
hiring Prystash and Guidry to kill his estranged wife on Nov. 9,
1994. Guidry and Prystash also are charged with capital murder and
Even though she said she had heard talk for
weeks of Fratta trying to get Prystash to kill Farah Fratta and
was told afterward that it had happened, Gipp said she allowed
Prystash to keep living in her home and never informed the police
or the intended victim. But Gipp said she did take some
precautions. She retrieved from her trash the two spent hulls
Prystash removed from his Charter Arms revolver, and she later
located the pistol and jotted down its serial number. "Why did you
write it down, Mary?" prosecutor Casey O'Brien asked her. "Because
I knew he'd done wrong," she answered, suggesting she sensed the
information might be useful in the future.
In return for killing Farah Fratta, Gipp said,
Fratta was to have given Guidry and Prystash $1,000 and a Jeep.
Gipp was never charged with a crime, but she clearly came under
considerable police scrutiny afterward, especially since her phone
was used a lot in the alleged plot to kill Fratta.
The revolver used in the crime later was
recovered by police after Guidry used it in a bank robbery in
March 1994, prosecutors said. Defense lawyers John Ackerman and
Mike Charlton began the defense case with eight witnesses, and
much of the questioning revolved around evidence that Fratta
enjoyed and was known for excremental sexual activities -
preferences that previous witnesses said caused his marriage to
Two Houston women, legal secretary Marianne
Word and artist Rebecca Hand, said they had brief affairs with
Fratta after he separated from his wife. They said he was
courteous toward them and that he never asked them to do anything
Fratta holds dim view of women, expert says
Capital murder defendant Robert Fratta has
scant appreciation of other people's feelings and views women as "little
girls" who can easily be dominated, a psychologist testified
Tuesday. Clinical psychologist Laurence Abrams, testifying as a
prosecution witness, said Fratta, a former Missouri City
firefighter, wanted an "open marriage" with wife Farah and scouted
around bars for a woman to have sex with the couple. Abrams told
jurors in visiting state District Judge Bob Burdette's court about
the findings in his 1994 examination of Fratta during a custody
struggle with his estranged wife over their three children.
Testimony showed it was Fratta's sexual demands
on his wife that prompted her to seek a divorce. Prosecutors
contend this led Fratta to hire someone to kill her. Farah Fratta
was shot outside her Atascocita home on Nov. 9, 1994, allegedly by
Howard Guidry, one of two men the prosecution said was offered
$1,000 and a Jeep to kill her. Guidry and Joseph Prystash, who
allegedly made the arrangements with Guidry on Fratta's behalf,
await capital murder trials.
Abrams was called in response to the testimony
of a defense witness, psychologist Edward Friedman, who said he
examined Fratta and found no signs of sexual deviancy. The judge
scheduled closing arguments in the guilt-innocence phase of the
trial for 9:15 a.m. today.
Jury finds Fratta guilty of plotting wife's
A jury took less than an hour Wednesday to
convict Robert Fratta of arranging his wife's murder when their
marriage disintegrated in a bitter child-custody fight. The panel
in visiting state District Judge Bob Burdette's court was ordered
to return to court today to hear evidence in the punishment phase
of the trial. Fratta, convicted of capital murder, could be
sentenced to death by injection or a life prison term with at
least 40 years before parole eligibility.
Fratta, 39, a former Missouri City public
safety officer who steadfastly maintained his innocence before the
trial, refused to comment as he left the courtroom. His conviction
was welcome news for Lex and Betty Baquer, the parents of Farah
Fratta, 33. She was shot to death Nov. 9, 1994, outside her
Atascocita home. "He's a menace to society," Lex Baquer said. "He's
a menace to women. He doesn't deserve to live."
Defense lawyer Mike Charlton said the verdict
was unfair because Fratta's two co-defendants, Howard Guidry and
Joseph Prystash, never testified at the trial but were quoted
extensively as the state presented its evidence. "It's unfair
because we weren't able to cross-examine people who weren't there,"
Charlton said, echoing remarks he made in his closing statement.
Testimony showed that Fratta approached several
people, many of them body-builders at the spa he frequented,
before getting his workout partner, Prystash, to agree to find
someone to kill Mrs. Fratta. Prystash allegedly found Guidry, who,
according to testimony, used Fratta's .38-caliber revolver to
shoot Mrs. Fratta. The gun was recovered after Guidry allegedly
used it in a bank robbery. Attorneys for Prystash and Guidry, both
awaiting prosecution on capital murder charges, refused to allow
them to testify.
Prosecutor Kelly Siegler referred to Prystash
and Guidry in her closing statement, pointing at the empty witness
stand. "You wouldn't have been able to stomach the deal we'd have
had to cut to put 'em in that chair," she told the jury.
Through the testimony of Prystash's girlfriend,
Mary Gipp, the prosecution was able to introduce considerable
information connecting the defendants to the slaying. The jury
even heard a description of Prystash removing spent shells from
the weapon after the shooting. Gipp said Fratta promised the pair
$1,000 and a Jeep for shooting Mrs. Fratta.
The jury took 50 minutes to return a conviction.
The focal point of the trial was evidence,
detailed earlier in a legal dispute over child custody, about the
collapse of the Frattas' nine-year marriage. Siegler told jurors
that Fratta once had it all: good looks, a fine physique, a steady
job in law enforcement and firefighting, a pretty wife and three
children. "But he's missing something all of you have," she told
the jury. "He's missing a conscience."
Fratta once described his marriage as perfect,
since he had a wife to satisfy his every need. But Siegler said
Fratta's strange sexual demands eventually caused her to quit
meeting his needs and, beyond that, to seek a divorce and custody
of their children. The divorce action was still pending when Farah
Fratta was killed.
Several witnesses testified about the oddities
of Fratta's sexual preferences and how they disturbed his wife.
Defense lawyers, however, called two women to testify about
affairs they had with him after he separated. Both women said
Fratta treated them courteously and said Fratta never placed odd
demands on them.
Fratta's attempt to collect on his wife's life
insurance policy just two days after her death was telling,
Siegler said. A total of $235,000 in benefits was due on her death,
Siegler said, but to Fratta's dismay he discovered that his wife
had made her children the sole beneficiaries.
In punishment phase, mother of victim labels
Fratta a `monster'
Robert Fratta, convicted of arranging the
slaying of his estranged wife, was denounced Friday as a "monster"
by the victim's mother as testimony closed in Fratta's two-week
capital murder trial. Betty Baquer, 59, whose daughter, Farah
Fratta, was slain by a man allegedly hired by Robert Fratta, was
the trial's last witness. Prosecutor Kelly Siegler asked Baquer
how the responsibility for raising her daughter's three children
has affected her life. "We don't have a life any more thanks to
that monster right there," Baquer said, pointing across the
courtroom at her 39-year-old former son-in-law. Visiting state
District Judge Bob Burdette instructed jurors to disregard the
Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday
morning. The jury will then decide whether to sentence Fratta, a
former Missouri City public safety officer, to death by injection
or a life sentence that cannot end in parole before 2035.
Farah Fratta, 33, was shot to death outside her
Atascocita home Nov. 9, 1994. Testimony in the trial indicated
that Joseph Prystash, a friend of Robert Fratta, hired Howard
Guidry, who fired the fatal shots. Prystash and Guidry await trial
on capital murder charges. Prystash's girlfriend, Mary Gipp, said
Fratta offered $1,000 and a Jeep to the pair for killing Farah
Fratta, whose two-year divorce action against her husband included
allegations that he demanded she engage in bizarre sexual acts
Prosecutors presented little new evidence after
the guilty verdict, but Fratta's lawyers, Mike Charlton and John
Ackerman, called a series of New Yorkers to testify that their
client - at least when they knew him - was polite, kind, caring,
respectful, friendly and a good neighbor. They were called in an
effort to convince jurors that Fratta does not pose a continuing
threat - one of the key questions jurors have to answer to
determine if he is sentenced to death. But under questioning by
prosecutors, only one of these witnesses said they had spent much
time with the defendant in decades.
Robin Kazmaroff, 40, who bagged groceries with
Fratta 20 years ago, said he came to Houston once a couple of
years ago and was given a tour of the city. He recalled that
Fratta's young son fell off a dock and his old friend jumped into
10-feet-deep water to rescue the child. Kazmaroff was the sole
defense character witness to have met Farah Fratta.
Deliberations to resume in Fratta sentencing
A jury was sequestered late Monday after
failing to decide whether Robert Fratta deserved life in prison or
the death penalty for arranging to have his wife murdered.
Deliberations will resume this morning. The 10 men and two women
were told that life in this case would mean that Robert Fratta,
39, would be 79 before being considered for parole. To impose the
death penalty, the jury must find that there were no mitigating
circumstances that would temper the defendant's culpability and
that he presents a continuing threat to society.
Fratta, a former Missouri City public safety
officer, was convicted of capital murder Wednesday for soliciting
the execution of his wife, Farah Fratta, 33. Before visiting state
District Judge Bob Burdette sent jurors out to deliberate Monday,
defense attorney John Ackerman argued that Fratta was not a future
danger. Ackerman blamed the Nov. 9, 1994, murder on a divorce
battle, which had grown increasingly ugly with disclosures by
Farah Fratta about her husband's deviant sexual demands, and her
effort to get custody of their three small children. "It'll never
happen again," Ackerman said of this combination of circumstances.
"He'll never be put back in that corner he felt himself in."
Prosecutors Kelly Siegler and Casey O'Brien,
who argued that Robert Fratta provided a profile of a death
penalty candidate, could offer no pattern of criminal behavior by
Fratta. Still, "Bob Fratta is not going to change," Siegler said.
"He's only going to get worse. He is constantly pushing the
boundaries, whether sexually or legally. The defendant is consumed
by greed and hate for his wife. Do you think that has gone away?"
Testimony showed that Farah Fratta had been
forced to undergo plastic surgery to please her husband. She
finally balked at his insistence that she perform certain sex acts,
and she sought a divorce.
Joseph Prystash and Howard Guidry, the alleged
go-between and the accused killer, are awaiting trial. Testimony
showed Guidry was dropped off by Prystash at the Frattas' home and
that he hid in a playhouse in the back yard until Farah Fratta
arrived. She was shot twice as she got out of her car. Robert
Fratta was a suspect from the minute he tried to cash in on his
wife's $235,000 insurance policy two days after her death.
Ackerman had asked the jury to consider sparing
Robert Fratta's life for the sake of his children. "We should
never make them (the children) wonder, `Is today the day they are
going to kill my dad?' " Ackerman said. "We should spare them that."
But prosecutors maintained their stance.
O'Brien read aloud the police and fireman's oath Robert Fratta had
sworn to uphold. Among the vows were to protect the innocent, to
keep one's personal life unsullied and to be constantly mindful of
the welfare of others. "He has disgraced the badge," O'Brien said.
Fratta receives ultimate penalty
Jurors could have given Robert Fratta life in
prison, but instead they decided he should die for setting up his
wife's murder. The panel rejected the defense's "mitigating
circumstance" argument. The defense said the couple's messy
divorce, including disclosures of his bizarre sexual desires,
explained his actions. One juror hung his head and cried as the
judge read the replies to the questions jurors answered in
reaching a decision.
Jury sentences Fratta to die for wife's
A jury's answers to three questions Tuesday
added up to a death sentence for Robert Fratta, who chose to have
his wife murdered rather than allow her to win custody of their
children. The jury could have chosen a life prison term after
convicting Fratta, 39, a former Missouri City public safety
officer, of capital murder. He would have had to serve 40 years
before parole could be considered.
But after deliberating for about eight hours
over two days and spending Monday night in a hotel, the haggard 10
men and two women agreed Fratta should die for arranging the Nov.
9, 1994, killing of Farah Fratta, 33. One juror hung his head and
cried as visiting state District Judge Bob Burdette read the
jury's answers aloud. Others shifted uneasily in their chairs.
In answering the questions that determined
whether Fratta would be sentenced to death or to life in prison,
jurors found that Fratta was likely to commit violent crimes in
the future and that he was guilty of murdering his wife even
though someone else pulled the trigger. The panel also rejected a
defense argument of "mitigating circumstance," which would have
spared Fratta from execution. The defense contended that the
couple's messy divorce, including disclosures of Robert Fratta's
bizarre sexual desires, explained his actions.
With each answer, Gloria Fratta crouched deeper
in her seat behind her son and caught her tears in a tattered
tissue. Robert Fratta stood with his head bowed but did not appear
For Lex and Betty Baquer, the parents of Farah
Fratta, the verdict was bittersweet. They said death was the only
fitting punishment for their former son-in-law, but the execution
would cause still more pain for their grandchildren. "No
punishment could justify our grief," Lex Baquer said with tears in
his eyes. "The least he can do now is apologize to his children."
Appeal of a death penalty verdict is automatic.
Defense lawyer Mike Charlton said he did not believe the trial was
conducted in accordance with the law - he did not elaborate - and
that the jury had been worked into a "frenzy" by prosecutors.
Charlton also referred to a contagious "blood lust" in Harris
County as a factor in the sentence.
Prosecutors Kelly Siegler and Casey O'Brien had
brought in about 40 witnesses who painted a sinister picture of
Robert Fratta: a vain and deviant oppressor who, early in his
marriage, had pressured his wife to have her nose and breasts
surgically reconstructed. By 1992, it was his boredom with marital
sex and his desire for strange sexual experiments that drove her
to seek a divorce. Fratta was said to have vowed to get even with
his wife, in part because it appeared she would win custody of the
children, then ages 7, 5 and 3.
Witnesses testified that Fratta had tried to
enlist the help of one of his fellow weight lifters to kill his
wife. Evidence was provided - including the murder weapon and
phone records - to tie Fratta to accused middleman Joseph Prystash
before the murder, and to Prystash and accused gunman Howard Paul
Guidry on the night of the murder. Guidry was arrested after a
bank robbery in which the murder weapon was used. The gun was
found to have belonged to Robert Fratta, who knew Prystash from
his gym. Guidry was a neighbor of Prystash.
Prystash apparently drove Guidry to the
couple's home on the night of the killing and stayed in contact by
phone and pager with Robert Fratta, who had taken his children to
dinner and to church. Guidry hid in the children's playhouse until
Farah Fratta came home and shot her twice as she got out of her
car. Prystash and Guidry are awaiting trial on capital murder
Detectives were convinced from the start that
Robert Fratta was behind his wife's murder. He had tried to
collect on her $235,000 insurance policy days after her murder.
But officers could not get close enough to Fratta to make an
arrest until they caught the alleged accomplices, who provided
Bradley Fratta, 9, was a key witness for the
prosecution. A blond version of his father, Bradley took the stand
and provided the information that placed his father at a cafeteria,
and also getting paged and using a phone there. His testimony was
significant to substantiating testimony from detectives who
related details given them by the accused killers.
Before sending the jury out to deliberate
Monday, defense attorney John Ackerman suggested that choosing
death for Robert Fratta might burden Bradley with guilt by
association. But Lex Baquer said later that Bradley has made his
peace with what has happened thus far. Baquer said he expects the
youngster to process news of the death sentence with the same hard
earned maturity. He said his grandson shared these comments with
him the night before: "I don't care if my daddy stays in jail
forever. Daddy lied to me. He paid the bad guys to kill mommy."
CONFLICT IN EMOTION
For Fratta children, healing will hurt
Robert Fratta's murder trial has ended but the
healing process for his children - who lost their mother to
violence and now their father to prison - has just begun. Child
psychology experts say the youngsters - ages 9, 7 and 5 - probably
have conflicting emotions about their father, who was sentenced to
death Tuesday for arranging the 1994 killing of his estranged wife,
For instance, Bradley Fratta, the oldest child,
said he didn't care "if my daddy stays in jail forever," just days
after he smiled and waved at his father in the courtroom. "Children
may feel betrayed, but it doesn't mean they stop loving the person
who brought the hurt," said Joan Anderson, a clinical psychologist
who specializes in children. "In this case, the children are going
to permanently love their father."
Testimony from the trial showed Robert Fratta
hired two men - who also face capital murder charges - to carry
out the killing of his wife amid a custody dispute. The children
have lived with maternal grandparents since Farah Fratta died. Lex
and Betty Baquer are seeking permanent custody and are expanding
their Humble home to accommodate the children.
Amber Fratta, who was 3 when her mother was
slain, has some difficulty fully understanding what has happened,
Lex Baquer said. "She thinks mom has gone to heaven and is coming
back," he said, adding that the girl once begged him to bring her
mother back so she could give her "one more hug." Amber Fratta,
who is in kindergarten, falls asleep each night embracing a framed
photo of her with her mother, Baquer said. "She used to talk to
that picture. It was heart-breaking."
Baquer said Daniel, 7, and Bradley stoically
share memories of their mother, such as recalling her favorite
songs when they're played on the radio. None of the children
mention their father, except to occasionally ask about the
criminal case, their grandfather said.
Dr. Bruce Perry, who heads a Baylor College of
Medicine program dealing with trauma-exposed youth, said it's not
surprising that the youngsters do not talk about Robert Fratta,
considering they are living with the victim's parents. "Children
are very good at reading the adult world and complying with it,"
said Perry, who led a trauma-assessment team that treated and
studied children of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. "If they
see distress in adults, they're going to avoid anything that might
cause more distress."
Photos of the children with their mother are
prominently displayed in the Baquer home. Mementos of their father
are noticeably missing. Anderson and Perry warned that children in
such situations cannot - and should not - shut off affection
abruptly. "They need a neutral third party to help them understand
that it's OK to have good memories of their father, as well as
exactly what has happened in the (criminal) case," Anderson said.
"Because even though some terrible things have happened, not all
of the memories of the father are negative." Added Perry: "It's
wrong for them to pretend their father didn't exist because that
was a sizable chunk of their lives that would be erased."
Baquer said the children underwent counseling
immediately after their mother died. For at least six months, they
wouldn't sleep alone. Now they seem happier, their grandfather
said. They make good grades in school, he said, and the boys enjoy
playing sports and Amber likes playing dress-up.
But Bradley, who testified in his father's
trial about his father's whereabouts the day Farah Fratta was
found slain, has occasional moments of moodiness when television
news begins. "It's as if he knows something is going to happen,"
Baquer said. Perry said it can take years for youngsters to come
to terms with such emotions. "There has been an incredible rupture
in their lives and they need help to move forward without storing
that emotional pain," Perry said. "If it's not dealt with
moderately and gradually, the child can become depressed or even
Man faces life term in solicitation
A man who offered to avenge one murder-for-hire
with another was convicted Wednesday of soliciting capital murder.
A jury in state District Judge Brian Rains' court will return
today to hear closing arguments and determine punishment for Bill
Planter. Planter faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. The
person he offered to kill, Robert Fratta, was sentenced to death
last month for arranging the shooting death of his wife, Farah
Fratta, in the garage of her Atascocita home on Nov. 9.
Robert Fratta was on the brink of losing
custody of his three young children to his wife, who had filed for
divorce. Lex and Betty Baquer, the dead woman's parents, took up
the custody fight on their daughter's behalf and a civil court
judge found Robert Fratta was an unfit parent. It was about this
time that Lex Baquer first heard from Planter. In a series of
meetings and phone calls with Baquer, which were recorded by
investigators, Planter laid out a plan to punish Fratta for his
wife's death. Planter, a former police officer from Huffman, set a
price of $10,000 for the killing and promised Fratta's body would
never be found.
Man who said he'd kill Fratta is sent to
A jury sentenced a man to 17 years in prison
Thursday for offering to kill Robert Fratta, who was himself
convicted of arranging the murder of his wife. The jury in state
District Judge Brian Rains' court on Wednesday convicted Bill
Planter of soliciting capital murder for offering to kill Robert
Fratta, 33. Fratta, a former Missouri City public safety officer,
is on death row for arranging the killing of his estranged wife,
Farah Fratta. She was shot in the garage of her Atascocita home on
Nov. 9, 1994. The range of punishment for Planter was probation to
life in prison.
Jurors heard from Lex Baquer, the dead woman's
father, who was instrumental in developing evidence against
Planter. Planter contacted Baquer before Robert Fratta was
arrested in his wife's death, according to testimony. At the time,
Robert and Farah Fratta were engaged in a bitter dispute over
custody of their three children. Investigators hid a recording
device on Baquer and taped his conversations with Planter.
Planter tried to convince Baquer that police
would never be able to catch Robert Fratta. For $10,000, he said,
he would see that no body was ever found. When Planter was
arrested, a search of his car revealed guns, a knife and
explosives. Planter had served with the sheriff's department and a
constable's office, and briefly was police chief in Splendora.
Rocket Rosen, Planter's attorney, argued that Planter would be a
good candidate for probation. He cited Planter's years as a
policeman and an unblemished past. But prosecutor Ted Wilson
called Planter "a time bomb."
Murder plans known, witness says
Woman testifies in Fratta slaying
A woman who might have been able to save Farah
Fratta's life testified Monday that she knew about her boyfriend's
plans to have Fratta killed days before she was shot to death.
Mary Gipp, speaking in somber tones and sobbing at times, told the
jury that her boyfriend, Joseph Prystash, helped arrange Fratta's
murder. In return, he was promised a Jeep, she said. Prystash's
capital murder trial began Monday in visiting state District Judge
Bob Burdette's court. Prosecutor Casey O'Brien said he will seek
the death penalty if Prystash is convicted.
Fratta's estranged husband, Robert Fratta, was
sentenced to death in April for arranging the murder. The man
accused of firing the fatal shots, Howard Guidry, is scheduled to
be tried next month.
Gipp testified that Prystash had told her a few
days before Fratta was slain that the killing was to take place on
Nov. 9, 1994. But she didn't notify the police, she said. She said
she wanted to call Fratta and warn her, but couldn't find her
phone number. "I was scared. I knew it was wrong," she said.
Gipp was granted immunity in exchange for her
testimony, which often left an awkward silence in the courtroom.
Fratta's parents were among those in attendance. Gipp admitted
during her hour-long testimony that she was home when Prystash and
Guidry prepared to leave on the night of the murder - dressed all
in black. "I knew where he (Prystash) was going," she said.
When he returned two hours later, Gipp said,
she watched him unload his gun and throw two empty shells into a
garbage can. "I asked him if he killed her," she said. "He said, `yes.'
" Gipp said Prystash told her that Guidry shot Fratta after she
pulled into the garage and got out of her car. She said Prystash,
who drove the two to the scene, waited in the car. Prystash told
her that Robert Fratta was in church with his three children, who
were at the center of a custody battle between the couple.
Gipp testified that after Prystash left her
apartment, she retrieved the shells from the trash can and hid
them. Later, she threw them away again, confused about her
loyalties to her boyfriend, she said. "I still love him," Gipp
Gipp had met Farah Fratta a couple of times and
knew Robert Fratta from a gym where they worked out. During the
day's testimony, four men who work out at the same gym testified
that Robert Fratta had approached each of them about finding a hit
man. None called the police.
Defense attorney Gerald Bourque said he will
try to show that the police gathered evidence and testimony
illegally. On Monday, Bourque tried to discredit the testimony of
the men from the gym by implying that they should have called the
police, and might have been involved themselves.
Jury quickly convicts murder middleman in
plot with Fratta
In 17 minutes, a jury convicted Joseph Prystash
of capital murder Monday for arranging the killing of Farah Fratta
in a plot hatched by Fratta's estranged husband. Sentencing
testimony begins today, and prosecutors are seeking the death
penalty. During the three-day trial, testimony showed that the
victim's husband, Robert Fratta, offered Prystash a Jeep as
payment for being the middleman in the murder-for-hire.
Robert Fratta, a former Missouri City peace
officer, was convicted of capital murder in April and is on death
row. The accused killer, Howard Guidry, should go to trial next
month. Farah Fratta's father, Lex Baquer, was relieved and
emotional after the verdict was read Monday afternoon. "This man
could have stopped it," he said. ""They are not fit to live. "
Upset over his pending divorce and a custody
battle, Robert Fratta asked Prystash, 39, to arrange the killing,
testimony showed. The jury was told that Prystash hired his
girlfriend's neighbor to kill Fratta on Nov. 9, 1994, for $1,000.
Guidry is accused of shooting Fratta in the head as she got out of
her car in her garage, while Prystash waited in his car.
Prystash's girlfriend, Mary Gipp, testified during the trial that
she knew about the plot a few days before Fratta was killed. Gipp,
who was given immunity for her testimony, said Prystash told her
that he was involved in the killing. She watched him unload a
pistol on the night of the killing, she said.
In their closing statements, defense attorneys
tried to convince the jury that the evidence in the case was
obtained illegally. Prystash was not given access to an attorney
while giving his statement, as he desired, and police searched his
car and home without warrants, said Gerald Bourque, Prystash's
attorney. But Prosecutor Casey O'Brien argued that the police
officers followed the letter of the law and the defense was simply
grabbing at straws.
Girlfriend tells how Prystash scared victim
Five months before Farah Fratta was killed, a
masked Joseph Prystash broke into her home and tried to frighten
her into dropping her fight for custody of her three children,
Prystash's girlfriend testified Tuesday. Mary Gipp's testimony
came in the punishment phase of Prystash's capital murder trial.
He was convicted of capital murder on Monday, and prosecutors are
asking the jury to give him the death penalty.
Gipp said that after breaking into the house
through a window, Prystash confronted Fratta while she was in bed
with the three young children. Gipp, who was promised immunity
from prosecution in exchange for her testimony, said Prystash told
her that he and Fratta's husband, Robert Fratta, had discussed
ways to frighten Fratta's estranged wife.
Robert Fratta was convicted in April of hiring
the killer and is on death row. Farah Fratta had filed for divorce,
and authorities said their dispute over child custody was a key
factor in the plot to kill her.
Gipp testified Tuesday that Prystash had told
her he had drilled a small hole in a rear window to get into the
house. Prystash recounted that upon entering the home, he found
Fratta in her bedroom with her children, Gipp testified. ""He said
the children started screaming," she said.
Fratta told her children to go to their rooms,
Gipp said she was told. Although prosecutors pressed her, Gipp
said Prystash did not tell her what happened during the
confrontation. ""Bob (Fratta) wanted Joe (Prystash) to rape her.
Joe would not," Gipp said.
Previously, she testified that she knew her
boyfriend had arranged the slaying of Fratta and knew where he was
going on the night he drove the alleged killer, Howard Guidry, to
Fratta's house. Guidry, who allegedly shot Fratta as she got out
of her car in her garage on Nov. 9, goes to trial next month.
Gipp testified that she did not know whether
Prystash had a weapon on the night he broke into Fratta's home.
She told prosecutors that her stun gun was missing. She said she
had not seen it in years, however. A stun gun was used on Fratta
that night, testified Harris County constable Sgt. Robert Johnson,
whose testimony followed Gipp's.
Fratta called 911 after the intrusion, and
police officers saw two burn marks on her throat and shoulder
consistent with stun gun injuries, Johnson said. From the witness
stand, he demonstrated how a stun gun works. When he pressed the
trigger, the device crackled loudly, startling the jury.
The 911 call also was replayed, but it was hard
to understand what Fratta was saying because she was crying.
Fratta's mother, who was in the courtroom listening to her
daughter's voice on tape, also wept.
When he got to Fratta's home on that June
morning, Johnson said, the victim was terrified. He said the only
thing missing from the Fratta home was the handset from a portable
telephone, which he guessed was taken to keep Fratta from calling
the police. No one was arrested for the break-in.
Prosecutors continued Tuesday to try to show
that Prystash engaged in a pattern of violence and anti-social
behavior. Two ex-wives testified that Prystash had no conscience
and could easily lose his temper. Florida police officers
testified that Prystash had been convicted of seven felonies there
in the 1970s, and evidence was introduced of attempted murder
charges filed against Prystash in 1991 and later dropped.
The jury is expected to determine Prystash's
punishment today after defense witnesses testify.
Murder middleman gets death sentence/Prystash
set up slaying of Fratta's wife
A jury sentenced Joseph Prystash on Wednesday
to death by injection for arranging the murder of Farah Fratta, a
mother of three young children. In two hours, the seven-woman,
five-man jury decided that Prystash, 39, would be a continued
threat to society and should die for his crime. The jury could
have sentenced Prystash to life in prison with a mandatory 40
years before parole eligibility.
After the sentence was read, jurors grimly
filed past Fratta's parents, embracing them tightly and shaking
their hands. Several jurors cried as the victim's parents thanked
them. Prystash retained the same stoic demeanor that he had
displayed throughout the nine-day trial. ""We are pleased. Very
pleased," said Lex Baquer, Fratta's father. ""It will never bring
Farah back, but it will help to console."
Prystash was convicted of capital murder Monday
for helping to plot the fatal shooting of Fratta, 33. The victim's
husband, Robert Fratta, 39, a former Missouri City peace officer,
was convicted and sentenced to death in April for hatching the
scheme. Authorities say Fratta decided to have his wife killed
because she was filing for divorce and fighting for custody of
their three children. Prystash was promised a Jeep for arranging
Howard Guidry, who allegedly fired the shots
that killed Fratta as she got out of her car in her garage last
Nov. 9, goes to trial next month.
Defense attorneys Wednesday tried to persuade
the jury to consider Prystash's interest in religion since his
arrest last year. Jail preachers testified that Prystash has been
a good Bible study student in the weekly jail sessions. They said
he is quiet and attentive and seems sincere. In his closing
remarks, defense attorney Gerald Bourque waved a Bible in front of
jurors, pleading with them to give his client a life sentence,
rather than death. He read passages from the Bible and talked
about repentance and forgiveness.
But prosecutor Kelly Siegler told the jury to
ignore Bourque's ""guilt trip," reminding jurors that they were
not in church and that the defense attorney is not a preacher. She
portrayed Prystash as an evil man who has been in and out of jail
since he was 20. Prystash's record includes seven felony
convictions in Florida, two theft convictions here and involvement
in an assault case in Montgomery County. Siegler told the jury
that Prystash would even be a threat to the prison population.
Five months before Fratta was murdered,
Prystash allegedly broke into her home to try to frighten her into
dropping the custody battle, Prystash's girlfriend testified. Mary
Gipp, the girlfriend, said Prystash told her that he broke in
through a window and confronted Farah Fratta in her bedroom, where
she was asleep with her children. Police say Fratta was burned
three times with a stun gun by the intruder.
Trial begins for third defendant in Fratta
An accused assassin shot his victim in the head,
then shot her again after she collapsed to be sure she was dead, a
prosecutor said Wednesday. "It's done," Howard Paul Guidry told a
co-defendant after killing Farah Fratta, said prosecutor Kelly
The comments were part of the prosecutor's
opening statement as the capital murder trial of Guidry, 20, got
under way. Defense attorneys said they would present their opening
statement after the prosecution completes its case.
Two other defendants in the murder-for-hire
case are on death row, and prosecutors are seeking the same
punishment for Guidry. Fratta, 33, was shot to death on Nov. 9,
1994. Her estranged husband, Robert "Bob" Fratta, who was to pay
for the murder, and middleman Joe Prystash already have been
convicted of capital murder. Guidry has pleaded not guilty.
The slaying grew out of a bitter divorce and
child custody dispute between the Frattas that began in 1993.
Robert Fratta is a former Missouri City public safety officer. The
couple were patrons of a health club where Prystash also worked
out regularly. When Robert Fratta decided to end his fight over
custody of his three children by having his wife killed, Siegler
said, he sought help from Prystash, who in turn enlisted Guidry.
In one written and one videotaped confession,
Guidry told of hiding in a child's playhouse at Farah Fratta's
Atascocita home to ambush her when she got home. In all three
trials, a key witness has been Prystash's girlfriend, Mary Gipp.
Siegler said jurors may find Gipp "despicable." "Although she
didn't do anything to help kill Farah Fratta," Siegler said, "she
didn't do one damn thing to stop it."
Gipp acknowledged on the witness stand that she
knew for six months that her boyfriend was plotting with Robert
Fratta to murder Farah Fratta. She said she knew the murder weapon
was to be a revolver Prystash owned and, in the month before the
shooting, she knew her boyfriend had gotten her neighbor, Guidry,
involved. Gipp said she considered trying to warn Farah Fratta
about the plot, but she said she couldn't because she only knew
the victim as "Farah" and was unable to find the phone number. In
addition, Gipp said, "I was in love with (Prystash)."
Guidry also awaits prosecution for a bank
robbery allegedly committed with Prystash's .38-caliber revolver
after the Fratta killing.
Third death sentence given in Fratta case
The gunman who killed a mother of three for
$1,000 was sentenced to die Wednesday, joining his two co-defendants
on death row. In separate trials, each of the three men who
planned and executed the murder-for-hire of Farah Fratta has been
convicted and sentenced to die by injection. Howard Paul Guidry,
who fired the fatal shots, was the last to go to trial. Guidry,
20, was convicted of capital murder for shooting Fratta in
exchange for cash from the victim's estranged husband, Robert
The Frattas had been engaged in a custody
battle, and evidence in the trials showed that Robert Fratta, a
former Missouri City peace officer, searched for weeks for someone
to kill his wife. On Nov. 9, 1994, Guidry was driven to the
victim's home by the middleman in the scheme, Joseph Prystash.
Guidry waited for more than an hour in a child's playhouse for
Fratta to return. When she drove into the garage, Guidry ambushed
her and shot her in the head. As she lay dying on the garage floor,
he leaned over and shot her point-blank in the head, Guidry told
Jim Hoffman, a Harris County Sheriff's
Department homicide detective, said he believes this is the first
local capital murder case in which multiple defendants have all
been sentenced to death.
Fratta's parents, who have watched each of the
three trials, said Guidry's put them through the most wrenching
emotions. "He was the last person to see my child," said Lex
Baquer, the victim's father. "He knew she was a mother of three."
Baquer said he is relieved that the trials are over. It has been
difficult to explain the proceedings to the three grandchildren he
is raising, he said.
The trial also was emotional for Guidry's
family, who sat together in one row throughout the proceedings.
Moments after the death sentence was read, Guidry's mother
collapsed in grief. The defendant tried to go to her, but deputies
restrained him and removed him from the room. An ambulance was
called and she was taken to a hospital, still conscious.
During the trial's punishment phase, prosecutor
Kelly Siegler argued that Guidry deserved a death sentence because
of his history of violence and the heinous nature of the Fratta
murder. After he killed Fratta, Guidry was implicated in the
robbery of an auto parts store and in a Klein bank robbery. An
inmate testified that Guidry was involved in both crimes, and a
bank teller testified that she feared for her life when the
robbers pointed their guns at her face. The gun Guidry reportedly
used in the bank robbery was the same weapon he used to kill
Fratta. Also, deputies from the Harris County Jail testified that
Guidry punched one of them in jail a few months ago.
Guidry's defense attorneys asked jurors to
consider Guidry's age, his drug use and his lack of education and
spare his life. The other possible sentence was life in prison
with no parole eligibility for 40 years. "Forty years in prison is
not a gift, it is a penalty," said Loretta Muldrow, his attorney.
"I don't know anyone who has survived 40 years. Even if he goes
for life, he's still a dead man." On Tuesday, the jury indicated
it was deadlocked, and the panel was sequestered at a hotel for
the evening. Two hours after resuming deliberations Wednesday
morning, the panel reached a verdict.
Appeals court reverses '96 conviction of
A state appeals court reversed a trial decision
and entered a judgment of acquittal in the case of a 50-year-old
former lawman convicted in 1996 of offering to avenge one murder-for-hire
with another. The 11th Court of Appeals in Eastland issued the
opinion in the case of Bill Planter late last week.
Planter is accused of trying to persuade the
father of a dead woman to pay him to kill Robert Fratta. Fratta is
on death row for arranging the slaying of his estranged wife,
Farah Fratta, who was shot in the garage of her Atascocita home on
Nov. 9, 1994.
Robert Fratta was about to lose custody of his
three children to his wife, who had filed for divorce.
A jury in state District Judge Brian Rains'
court convicted Planter of offering to kill Robert Fratta. The
appeals court reversed the trial court and found the evidence used
to convict Planter in May 1996 was insufficient to support the
verdict, according to the court's opinion. "I felt so hopeless,"
said Planter's attorney, Rocket Rosen, who learned about the
ruling Tuesday. "No one was listening to me. This was a bogus
charge. My arguments to the judge and jurors fell on deaf ears,
but thank God not to the appeals court." Planter already served
about two years of a 17-year prison sentence for soliciting
capital murder and Rosen said he filed a motion for bail with the
Lex Baquer and his wife, Betty, took up the
custody fight and a civil court judge found Fratta was an unfit
parent. It was then that Lex Baquer first heard from Planter and
later contacted police, according to trial testimony. In meetings
and phone calls with Baquer, which were recorded by police,
Planter laid out a plan to punish Fratta for his wife's death.
Testimony showed Planter, a former police officer from Huffman who
once worked for the Harris County Sheriff's Department and did a
short stint as Splendora's police chief, set a price of $10,000
for the killing and vowed Fratta's body would never be found.
But the appeals court's opinion says the jury's
finding that Planter attempted to get Baquer to kill Fratta was
incorrect. Instead, the evidence shows that Planter only asked
Baquer to pay him to kill Fratta. It may seem like a subtle point,
Rosen said, but the facts of the case didn't fit the charges
against Planter as they were worded in the indictment and jury
charge. Rosen said his client approached Baquer because he was
angered by the pace of the high-profile case against Fratta.
Prosecutors hadn't seen the court's opinion
Tuesday and declined comment. The state can ask for a rehearing
before the court in Eastland or ask the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals to review the case.
Six death row inmates surrender after escape
HUNTSVILLE - Six death row inmates, including
three from the Houston area, surrendered Friday during an escape
attempt in which only Martin Gurule, 29, of Corpus Christi broke
through the perimeter of the Ellis I Unit.
The six others were identified as:
Eric Dewayne Cathey, 27, came to death row on
April 29, 1997, from Harris County. Cathey was convicted of
capital murder in the 1996 kidnapping and shooting of Christina
O. Castillo, 20, in the 1300 block of West. Testimony showed
that Cathey and five friends planned to rob Castillo and her
boyfriend of drugs and money. But after abducting and
blindfolding her, prosecutors said Cathey decided not to free
Castillo because she could identify him. She was shot three
times in the head.
Howard Guidry, 22, who was convicted in a
November 1994 murder for hire. Former Missouri City police
Officer Robert Fratta was convicted of hiring Guidry to kill his
wife, Farah Fratta, outside her Atascocita home. Guidry waited
in the victim's home for more than an hour in a child's
playhouse waiting for Farah Fratta to return. When she drove
into the garage, Guidry ambushed her and shot her in the head.
As she lay dying on the floor he leaned over and shot her point-blank
in the head, Guidry told police. According to testimony, Guidry
used Fratta's .38-caliber revolver in the hit. The Frattas had
been engaged in a custody battle. Guidry came to death row on
April 16, 1997, from Harris County.
Ponchai Wilkerson, 27, was sentenced to die
for the Nov. 28, 1990, robbery-shooting of Chung Myong Yi in a
Houston jewelry store. He shot him in the head from less than a
foot away and stole a box of jewelry. Wilkerson never denied
shooting Yi during the robbery, but he contended he fired the
shot after becoming alarmed by the jeweler's movements behind
the counter. Before November 1990, Wilkerson, the son of a
retired deputy sheriff, had run afoul of the law only once, for
auto theft. He is believed to have committed a string of
felonies then before shooting Yi. Wilkerson came to death row on
Nov. 22, 1991, from Harris County.
Henry Dunn, 24, who was convicted in a
November 1993 hate crime against a gay man in Tyler. Dunn and
another man were convicted of abducting Nicholas West from a
park, taking him outside the city, shooting him nine times and
leaving him in a gravel pit. Dunn was sent to death row on Oct.
11, 1995, from Smith County.
Gustavo Garcia, 26, was sentenced to death in
the 1990 murder of a Plano liquor store clerk during a robbery.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a new trial for
Garcia in 1994 but reversed itself in March 1996 and upheld his
conviction. Garcia came to death row on Jan. 8, 1992, from
James Clayton, 32, was sentenced to die for
the 1987 abduction and slaying of an Abilene woman. He came to
death row on Nov. 14, 1988, from Taylor County.
Appeals court denies 4 death row claims
The Criminal Court of Appeals on Wednesday
rejected appeals from four death row inmates, including former law
enforcement officer Hilton Crawford, who abducted 12-year-old
McKay Everett from the boy's Conroe home and killed him. Crawford,
a former Beaumont police officer and sheriff's deputy, raised 27
issues on appeal, including whether the evidence in the trial was
sufficient to convict, errors in jury selection and whether an
emotional courtroom outburst by the boy's mother was calculated by
prosecutors to inflame the jury against him. The appeals court
denied all of Crawford's claims. Crawford has maintained his
innocence in the 1995 murder.
The court also affirmed convictions and death
Former Missouri City police officer Robert
Fratta, who paid to have his wife killed amid a nasty divorce
battle. Farah Fratta, 33, was shot to death as she got out of her
car in 1994. Robert Fratta became a suspect when he tried to cash
in his wife's $235,000 insurance policy just two days after she
Charles Tuttle, who robbed and beat to death
Catherine Harris of Tyler in 1995.
Gayland Bradford, who shot and killed a Dallas
County supermarket security guard in 1988.
6 appeals rejected / Death chamber draws
near for killers
AUSTIN - Ten days before Christmas, the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals made the holy season even bleaker than
normal for six convicted killers, moving them a step closer to the
death chamber by rejecting their appeals. Among those whose cases
were rejected is Larry Keith Robison, a 42-year-old Fort Worth man
with a long history of mental illness. Robison was convicted and
sentenced to die for the 1982 slaying of 33-year-old Bruce Gardner,
the boyfriend of Robison's neighbor. Robison, a paranoid
schizophrenic, also confessed to slaying four other people in the
same episode, including his former roommate, whom he decapitated
and sexually mutilated. His case has been championed by groups
calling attention to the plight of the mentally ill in Texas'
criminal justice system. Earlier this year, they appealed
unsuccessfully to Gov. George W. Bush to grant Robison clemency.
In August, the criminal appeals court spared Robison's life just
four hours before his execution. The appeals court ordered a trial
court to determine if Robison is mentally competent to understand
his punishment. Last month, a Fort Worth judge ruled Robison
mentally competent to be killed after he testified that he is "ready
to accept responsibility" for the slayings. In light of
Wednesday's ruling by the appeals court, Robison's case now goes
back to the trial judge for a new execution date. Tarrant County
prosecutor John Stride said he would ask for a Jan. 21 execution
Other death-sentenced prisoners whose cases
were turned down Wednesday:
Howard Paul Guidry, sentenced to death in the
1994 murder-for-hire slaying of Farah Fratta in Houston. Guidry
was one of seven death row prisoners who tried to escape in 1998
by scaling a 10-foot fence on Thanksgiving night. Guidry was
convicted of fatally shooting Fratta, 33, the mother of three,
in her Atascocita home in a deal with her estranged husband,
Paul Fratta. Then, weeks after Farah Fratta's murder, a second
murder-for-hire scheme was hatched to avenge the woman's death
by killing Paul Fratta. That plot was never carried out, but
William Planter, a former Harris County Sheriff's deputy, was
convicted of solicitation of capital murder. Coincidentally,
Planter got good news Wednesday from the criminal appeals court.
On a 6-3 vote, the judges ordered the trial court to issue an
acquittal in his solicitation case.
Jermarr Arnold, a poetry-writing violent
prisoner convicted in the 1983 robbery-slaying of Christine
Marie Sanchez in Corpus Christi. Arnold claims, by his own tally,
to have raped at least 30 women in his long criminal history.
Like Robison, Arnold is a former mental patient, hospitalized
for a time in Colorado. But those who have championed the cause
of Robison have not spoken out on Arnold's behalf. In 1991,
Arnold claimed in a death row interview that he wanted to be
executed - and soon. "I've prayed to be executed right this
moment if it's possible," he said more than eight years ago. "I
feel I owe society a debt. I've committed about the worst crime
a person can commit. I've taken a young lady's life. If someone
would stick a knife in my chest, I wouldn't feel any regret." A
year later, Arnold stabbed two fellow death row inmates when he
argued with them.
Carl Edward Napier, condemned for the 1986
shooting deaths of Jack Carlin, 63; his wife, Martha, 63; and
their son, Andrew, 31, aboard a houseboat in Channelview.
Peter J. Miniel, an Illinois man sentenced to
die for the 1987 robbery-stabbing death of Paul Manier in
Robert Charles Ladd, a parolee sentenced to
die for the 1996 rape-slaying of a mentally handicapped Tyler
woman. The victim was bound, strangled and bludgeoned and her
body set afire.
Court orders acquittal for ex-law officer
Convicted in '96, man was accused of offering to set up death-for-hire
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered
Wednesday the acquittal of an ex-lawman convicted in 1996 of
offering to avenge one murder-for-hire with another. The decision
by the state's highest criminal appeals court means that Bill
Planter, 52, will soon be released from prison and have no
conviction on his record, said defense attorneys Steven Rocket
Rosen and Brian Wice. "This is a major victory," said Rosen, who
represented Planter at trial and on appeal.
Wice, who argued Planter's case before the high
court, agreed: "Your typical criminal defendant in Texas has a
better chance of winning the `Pick Six' than basically going free
because the appellate court has found the evidence legally
insufficient to support a conviction."
Planter was accused of trying to persuade the
father of a murdered woman to pay him to kill Robert Fratta.
Fratta is on death row for arranging the murder of his estranged
wife, Farah, who was shot in the garage of her Atascocita home on
Nov. 9, 1994. He was about to lose custody of his three children
to his wife, who had filed for divorce.
A jury in state District Judge Brian Rains'
court convicted Planter of solicitation of capital murder. He was
sentenced to 17 years behind bars. The 11th Court of Appeals in
Eastland initially reversed the trial court, finding that the
evidence used to convict Planter in May 1996 was insufficient to
support the verdict.
After prosecutors obtained a rehearing, the
lower court reversed itself and affirmed the conviction. The case
then went to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, which
reversed the trial court again and entered the judgment of
acquittal. Prosecutors asked for a rehearing, but it was denied
Wednesday. The court also ordered Rains to sign the acquittal
order, a technicality which must be met before Planter can be
Farah Fratta's father, Lex Baquer and his wife,
Betty, took up the custody fight after her death, and a civil
court judge found Fratta to be an unfit parent. It was then that
Planter contacted Lex Baquer, who later contacted police,
according to trial testimony. In meetings and phone calls with
Baquer, which were recorded by police, Planter laid out a plan to
kill Fratta. Testimony showed that Planter, an ex-police officer
from Huffman who once worked for the Harris County Sheriff's
Department and did a short stint as Splendora's police chief,
asked for $10,000 and vowed Fratta's body would never be found.
But appeals courts have said the jury's finding
that Planter tried to get Baquer to let him kill Fratta was
incorrect. Instead, the evidence shows that Planter only "asked"
Baquer to pay him to kill Fratta. It may seem like a subtle point,
Rosen and Wice said, but the facts of the case didn't fit the
charges against Planter as they were worded in the indictment and
jury charge. Rosen said his client only approached Baquer because
he was angered by the creeping pace of the high-profile case
The prosecutor who handled the appeal, Alan
Curry, was unavailable for comment Thursday. His boss, prosecutor
Bill Delmore, said he was not sure whether Planter could be
retried, but said it would be unlikely because of double-jeopardy
concerns. Wice and Rosen agreed. "I think the facts have been
litigated, and they can't re-litigate the facts," Rosen said. "They
get one bite at the apple."
Hostage seized on death row
Two convicted killers hold guard as captive
LIVINGSTON - Two death row inmates convicted of
murders in Harris County were holding a 57-year-old female
correctional officer hostage Monday night. "All we can do is hope,
but we are not overly optimistic," said Larry Todd, spokesman for
the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. However, another prison
spokesman, Larry Fitzgerald, said at a later 9 p.m. news
conference near the Terrell Unit here, "I'm encouraged by what I'm
seeing." Fitzgerald said negotiators were talking with the inmates,
both of whom were involved in a 1998 botched escape, from a
distance of about 30 feet inside the Terrell Unit, near here. He
said prison guards, normally unarmed, had canisters with 37 mm
rubberized ammunition and "chemical agents" that could be used if
The inmates, Ponchai Wilkerson, 28, and Howard
Guidry, 23, had two weapons, one of which was a sharpened metal
rod and the other is a metal bar used to pry open food slots in
cells. Fitzgerald said Wilkerson was standing over the handcuffed
officer, Jeannette Bledsoe, whose son is also a guard at the
Terrell Unit. "They're facing the death penalty; I'd assume
they're very dangerous," he said. But he added that the inmates
had not threatened Bledsoe's life. Fitzgerald said Bledsoe was
apparently walking Guidry back to his cell from a recreational
area inside the unit when they passed Wilkerson's cell. Wilkerson
somehow jimmied his door open, and he and Guidry jumped the
Fitzgerald said the two inmates were demanding
better conditions, such as increased visitation and less time in
isolation cells, where they currently spend 23 hours a day.
Ironically, Wilkerson and Guidry are among 112 death row inmates
who have been moved to the Terrell Unit from the Ellis Unit near
Huntsville because it is said to be more secure. The other 340
death row inmates are scheduled to move to Terrell in the future.
Part of the reason to move here from Huntsville,
about 40 miles away, was a November 1998 escape attempt by seven
inmates, including Wilkerson and Guidry. On Thanksgiving weekend
in 1998, Martin Gurule, 29, became the first Texas death row
inmate to escape in 64 years when he and six others carried out a
daring plan that included placing stuffed dummies under bed covers
and hiding on top of a roof for hours at night.
Six of the inmates, including Wilkerson and
Guidry, surrendered under a hail of gunfire as they approached a
perimeter fence. Gurule used bed covers to successfully crawl over
the concertina wire on top of the fence. His body was found Dec.
3, 1998, in the creek where he had drowned, about a mile from the
prison. Wilkerson, the son of a retired sheriff's deputy, is
scheduled for execution March 14. Harris County state District
Judge Jan Krocker set the date during a Feb. 8 hearing in which
Wilkerson threw a fit. "I will not walk away pretending this is
justice and fairness in this court," said Wilkerson. "I've been
wronged by these courts. This case is not a capital murder case."
Wilkerson added that one of every three black
males in the United States is either in prison, on probation or
under some kind of judicial supervision. Wilkerson and Guidry are
black. After making his statement, Wilkerson dropped to the floor
and appeared to grab a table and other furniture. Though he didn't
lash out at deputies, he fought attempts to handcuff him and carry
him out of the room. The two deputies in Krocker's court could not
move him, so deputies working in nearby courts came to help.
Wilkerson has an extensive history of
disciplinary problems behind bars, prison authorities said. He was
sentenced to die for the Nov. 28, 1990, robbery-shooting of Chung
Myong Yi in a Houston jewelry store. He shot him in the head from
less than a foot away and stole a box of jewelry. Wilkerson never
denied shooting Yi during the robbery, but he contended he fired
the shot after becoming alarmed by the jeweler's movements behind
the counter. Wilkerson, who is believed to have committed a string
of felonies before shooting Yi, came to death row on Nov. 22,
Guidry was convicted in a November 1994 murder-for-hire
case. Former Missouri City police Officer Robert Fratta was
convicted of hiring Guidry to kill his wife, Farah Fratta, outside
her Atascocita home. Guidry waited in the victim's home for more
than an hour. When Farah Fratta drove into the garage, Guidry shot
her in the head. As she lay dying on the floor he leaned over and
shot her point-blank in the head, Guidry told police.
Beginning Dec. 31, up to 48 of the more than
100 death row inmates housed at Terrell went on what they said was
a hunger strike to protest conditions. But prison officials said
none had gone three days without eating. The death row prisoners
are isolated from other inmates, locked in their cells 23 hours a
day and brought out only to exercise and shower by themselves. At
Ellis, death row inmates had more contact with each other and with
guards because the cells had bars on the front, instead of the
solid steel door used at Terrell. Also in Ellis, the prisoners
were allowed to watch television, a perk unavailable to segregated
inmates at other Texas prisons, including Terrell, Fitzgerald said.
Finding a link with two killers
Guard's ordeal lasts 13 hours
The correctional officer held hostage for 13
hours by two death row inmates stayed out of harm's way by seeking
common ground with her captors and vowed after her release Tuesday
to return to her job. Although shaken, Jeanette Bledsoe, 57, is "a
very strong lady," said her former husband, Robert Bledsoe. "Everything
has come into focus now. She's breaking down into sobbing, but
she'll be all right."
Bledsoe was overpowered by convicted killers
Ponchai Wilkerson, 28, and Howard Guidry, 23, about 4 p.m. Monday
at the Terrell Unit southwest of here. The two had nearly escaped
from the Ellis Unit in 1998 and were among the 112 prisoners
recently moved to Terrell, which is supposed to be more secure.
Meanwhile, prison officials are trying to figure out if a design
flaw made it possible for Wilkerson to jimmy the lock on his cell.
He opened the door and jumped on Bledsoe as she escorted Guidry
down the hall, and the two overpowered her.
Another prison guard witnessed the attack but
was powerless to intervene, Robert Bledsoe said. Fearful of
endangering his co-worker, on the job for a little over three
years, he went for help. Armed with two metal bars, the prisoners
took Bledsoe to a recreation room, where they handcuffed her,
shackled her, then made demands to prison authorities for better
The tense hostage situation marks at least the
third incident in recent months in which convicts at maximum
security lockups have apparently jammed their cell door locks. One
guard was stabbed to death and another was raped in the two
earlier incidents. "There may be a design flaw that allows inmates
to violate the locks," said Mac Stringfellow, chairman of the
Texas Board of Criminal Justice. Stringfellow said prison
investigators also are looking at several other factors that led
to the Terrell hostage situation, including where Wilkerson and
Guidry got the weapons. One prisoner was armed with a 15-inch
steel cylinder filed to a point at one end and the other with a
tool that guards use to open a narrow food slot on cell doors.
Prison officials said Bledsoe was following
proper procedures when the incident occurred and that staffing
levels played no role in the incident. Those closest to Bledsoe
describe her as a gregarious, matronly figure who is strong with
death-row inmates when necessary but also treats them with dignity.
"She's a very caring correctional officer," Robert Bledsoe said. "She
tries to treat everybody with respect. She feels she is a
protector up there more than a guard."
Bledsoe told her family members that she
believed if she could get the two inmates to view her as a human
being rather than an object of authority, it would be more
difficult for them to kill her. Wilkerson has an 8-year-old son.
After raising five boys - one of whom is also a prison guard -
Bledsoe is now raising a 9-year-old grandson. She and Wilkerson
shared stories of parenthood. "He needs me very much. If something
were to happen to me, I don't know what would happen to him,"
Robert Bledsoe quoted his ex-wife as saying to Wilkerson. They
talked about childhoods and their common experiences in the
The plan apparently worked. Only once did
Bledsoe fear death was imminent. About five hours into the
standoff, Guidry and Wilkerson became concerned that a squad of
five guards was preparing to storm the day room. Wilkerson jabbed
Bledsoe with the sharpened metal bar as he ordered the guards to
back off, Robert Bledsoe said. "She felt like (he) was going to
stick her," he said.
The hostage situation was resolved peacefully
about 5 a.m. after three anti-execution activists from Houston
were invited to the Terrell Unit by the Texas Department of Public
Safety. For about an hour, the community activists negotiated with
prison officials about how to end the standoff. A deal was made
that the inmates would get to speak with the community activists,
led by Deloyd Parker, executive director and founder of the SHAPE
Community Center. When the group went to the area where Bledsoe
was being held, they said they saw hundreds of police and guards
dressed in riot gear. Bledsoe, they said, was sitting on a
Kofi Taharka, chairman of the Houston chapter
of the National Black United Front, said that when the inmates saw
him and his colleagues, they exchanged the raised fist of the
black power movement. Then they removed Bledsoe's handcuffs,
helped her up and released her to authorities. The inmates turned
their weapons over to the officers and surrendered. "They told us
they wanted to call attention to the inhumane conditions," Taharka
said. "They were crying out. They had been on a hunger strike that
received very little attention." He added, "They feel some level
of remorse that things had to get to this point."
A spokesman for Gov. George W. Bush said the
governor, campaigning for president in Michigan, was "pleased this
crisis was resolved without any serious bodily harm." However,
Bush spokesman Mike Jones added that the governor would not
reconsider his decision not to call a special session of the
Legislature to address critical guard shortages or their low pay.
"We're always going to have problems, even if we had all the money
and staff we needed," Stringfellow said. "It's inherent with the
nature of prisons. Any time you lock up bad people in bad places,
you're going to have bad things happen."
Guidry earned his cell on death row after he
was convicted in the November 1994 slaying of Farah Fratta, the
wife of a former Missouri City police officer. Wilkerson, the son
of a retired sheriff's deputy, is scheduled to die March 14 for
the Nov. 28, 1990, murder of Chung Myong Yi, a clerk in a Houston
jewelry store. The fact that Wilkerson is so close to his
execution date terrified the Bledsoe family. "Desperate people do
desperate things," Robert Bledsoe said. "I think she was very
lucky to get out of this alive." Although she is shaken, Jeanette
Bledsoe is resolute about returning to the job. "Her last words
when she left there were, `They may think they have scared me away,
but I'll be back,' " Robert Bledsoe said.
Former lawman freed after winning acquittal
A judge Thursday signed an acquittal order
freeing former law officer Bill Planter, whose conviction for
soliciting a murder was overturned. Planter, 52, appeared before
state District Judge Brian Rains while his wife and children sat
in the courtroom. "He seemed dazed," said Planter's attorney,
Brian Wice. "His family and friends were ecstatic. They thought he
was coming home several years ago. "The first thing he wants to do
is hug his wife and then have a home-cooked meal."
Planter was convicted in May 1996 of trying to
persuade a murdered woman's father to pay him to kill Robert
Fratta, a former Missouri City police officer, for revenge. Fratta
is on death row for arranging the murder of his estranged wife,
Farah, who was shot in the garage of her Atascocita home Nov. 9,
1994. Fratta was about to lose custody of his three children to
his wife, who had filed for divorce.
A jury in Rains' court convicted Planter of
solicitation of capital murder, and he was sentenced to 17 years
in prison. An appeals court reversed the conviction, saying the
evidence was insufficient to support the verdict. After
prosecutors obtained a rehearing, the appeals court reversed
itself and affirmed the conviction. The Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals then reversed the trial court again and entered the
judgment of acquittal Feb. 9. Prosecutors were denied a rehearing,
and Rains was ordered to sign the acquittal order.
"I don't recall this (the state losing an
appeal) ever happening here except once in the early 1970s," said
District Attorney John B. Holmes Jr. "We were convinced he was
engaged in the conduct (of soliciting murder). "But the decision
appears to be that we did not have sufficient evidence." Wice said,
"As an appellate lawyer, I see more rejection than an out-of-work
actor. But in this case, the indictment alleged one thing and the
state proved another."
Farah Fratta's father, Lex Baquer, and his wife,
Betty, took up the custody fight after her killing, and a civil
court judge found Robert Fratta an unfit parent. Planter, of
Huffman, then contacted Lex Baquer and laid out a plan to kill
Fratta. Baquer notified officers, who recorded his meetings and
phone calls with Planter. Testimony showed that Planter, who once
worked for the Harris County Sheriff's Department and was briefly
Splendora's police chief, asked Baquer for $10,000 and vowed that
Fratta's body would never be found. But appeals courts said the
jury's finding that Planter tried to get Baquer to let him kill
Fratta was incorrect. Instead, they said, the evidence showed that
Planter only "asked" Baquer to pay him to kill Fratta.
Ex-officer out of prison, telling Texas
After spending four years in a state prison for
a crime he says he did not commit, former law enforcement officer
Bill Planter savored his new-found freedom Friday but said the
experience would drive him from Texas, his home for 37 years.
Planter, a former Harris County sheriff's deputy and one-time
police chief of Splendora, was released from prison Thursday after
his May 1996 conviction for soliciting capital murder was
overturned by an appeals court.
A jury found that in December 1994, Planter
approached Lex Baquer, the father of Farah Fratta, who was slain
in her Atascocita home. According to testimony, Planter offered to
kill Fratta's husband, a former Missouri City public safety
officer, who Planter said had ordered her death. Fratta was shot
twice in the head at her home in November 1994. Robert Fratta, her
estranged husband who was battling for custody of their three
young children, is on Texas' death row for arranging the slaying.
Sitting in his lawyer's downtown Houston
office, sporting a brand new pair of cowboy boots and clutching
the hand of his wife, Kathy, Planter vehemently denied he ever
offered to kill Fratta, claiming instead that it was Baquer who
brought up the subject. He had contacted Baquer before Fratta was
arrested, Planter said, because "I felt sorry for the man" and had
information that Fratta was involved in the crime. The men met on
two occasions and on one of them Baquer raised the possibility of
killing Fratta. "He approached me with wanting to kill him and I
said `Uh, Uh, Uh Whoa!,' " Planter said. "It caught me off guard.
I didn't say yes and I didn't say no. I said I would make some
phone calls. I was going to go straight to the sheriff."
Baquer said Friday he met twice with Planter in
December 1994, once at a Mexican restaurant near Greenspoint Mall
and once at a pizza restaurant in Humble. At both meetings, Baquer
said, he was carrying a cellular telephone with a microphone in it
that had been supplied by police and that they were taping the
conversations. At the second meeting, Baquer said, Planter offered
to kill Fratta. "I said `How much is it going to cost?' and he
said `$10,000'," Baquer said. "I said `How are you going to do it?'
and he said he would cut his throat and cut open his stomach and
that he would then fill it and every hole in Fratta's body with
dynamite and blow it to smithereens. There would be nothing left."
Planter was arrested after that conversation.
Trial testimony showed that at the time of his arrest, explosives,
guns and a knife were found in his car. A jury in state District
Judge Brian Rains' court convicted Planter of solicitation of
capital murder and sentenced him to 17 years in prison, but the
conviction was reversed by an appeals court that found there was
insufficient evidence to support the verdict.
The conviction was then reaffirmed after
prosecutors won a rehearing by the appeals court, but it was
reversed again by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which
entered a judgment of acquittal Feb. 9. On Thursday Rains signed
the order releasing Planter. The appeals court found the jury
erred in finding that Planter had tried to get Baquer to allow him
to kill Fratta, when the evidence showed that Planter had only "asked"
Baquer to pay him to kill Fratta.
"Some people will probably says that a guilty
man walked on a technicality," said Brian Wice, Planter's attorney.
"I can say that is absolutely not the case. The appeals court
found quite simply that no rational juror could have determined
beyond a reasonable doubt that Bill Planter was guilty. Period.
Planter said Friday he was "framed" and set up
by Harris County deputies and detectives who took umbrage at
comments he made to Baquer about the job they were doing in trying
to solve the case. He said he knew, at the second meeting with
Baquer, that he was being set up, but he went ahead with it
because "I wasn't doing anything illegal." The entire experience,
he said, has forced him and his wife to decide to leave Texas. "I've
been an election judge for both the Republicans and the Democrats,"
he said. "I was chairman of my civic club. I worked for police
departments. I helped kids in the neighborhood. Then I go to help
this fellow and I wake up and I'm sitting in a prison cell. I'm
going to sell what I own in Texas and I'm moving out of the state."
For his part, Baquer said he is disappointed
that Planter did not serve more time, but he never expected him to
serve the full 17 years. "For his sake, I hope that he has learned
his lesson," Baquer said. "I just want him to leave me alone. We
have gone through a lot of trauma and we just want to be left
Supreme Court rejects appeals by ex-officer
The U.S. Supreme Court turned down the appeal
of former Missouri City police Officer Robert Fratta, who is on
death row for arranging the murder of his estranged wife. The
court turned back Fratta's appeal without comment. He promised
$3,000 to Howard Guidry, who was then 17, to kill Farah Fratta,
34, with whom he was locked in a custody battle over their three
children. Guidry shot her twice in the head at her Atascocita home
on Nov. 9, 1994.
Jurists reject appeals
The appeals of eight condemned Texas inmates,
including two from Harris County, were rejected without comment
Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court. One of the Harris County cases
involves Howard Paul Guidry, 24, convicted as the triggerman in
the November 1994 murder for hire of 34-year-old Farah Fratta.
Fratta was shot twice in the head in the garage of her home. Her
husband, a former police officer, was convicted of masterminding
the plot to kill her and also is on death row.
New trial ordered in '94 murder case /
Convicted hit man says he was tricked
A federal judge ordered a new trial Friday for
the man convicted of the 1994 murder-for-hire of Farah Fratta
after determining that police tricked him into making a confession
and that hearsay testimony contributed to his conviction. U.S.
District Judge Vanessa Gilmore ordered that Howard Paul Guidry be
released from death row if the state failed to conduct a new trial
within 180 days. Guidry, 27, was convicted March 21, 1997, as the
triggerman in the murder of Fratta, 34, in a plot masterminded by
her husband, former Missouri City public safety officer Robert
Fratta. Her body was found in the garage of her home with two
bullet wounds in the head.
"It's extremely rare, especially in Texas,"
Guidry's lawyer, Kenneth Williams, said about the decision. "I'm
ecstatic." He said Guidry had not been informed of the decision
and would probably learn about it through the news media. Evidence
at trial showed that Fratta's husband hired Joseph Andrew Prystash
to carry out the killing. Prystash's girlfriend testified during
the trial that Prystash told her that he had agreed to pay Guidry
$1,000 to assist him and that Guidry had fired the fatal shots.
Robert Fratta and Prystash were both convicted of capital murder
and are on death row.
In her order, Gilmore found that sheriff's
deputies refused to allow Guidry to see his attorney during
interrogation, even after he demanded that he be allowed to do so.
At one point, Harris County sheriff's Deputy Jim Hoffman left the
room, then returned saying he had spoken with Guidry's lawyer.
Hoffman told Guidry that his lawyer had given him permission to
speak to police, and Guidry confessed.
Hoffman repeated the story in the trial judge's
chambers, but Guidry's lawyer later said he had not been contacted
by deputies and had not given them permission to speak to his
client. "This testimony suggested that the police feigned a
conversation with counsel in order to trick Guidry into confessing,"
Gilmore wrote. She also found that testimony by Prystash's
girlfriend should not have been allowed because she was merely
repeating statement's made to her by Prystash. Guidry's attorneys
therefore had no chance to cross-examine him. Her testimony was
the primary evidence linking Guidry to the slaying, Williams said.
Williams said prosecutors will have little
evidence against Guidry without the confession and the testimony
from Prystash's girlfriend. He said it was likely that prosecutors
would appeal the decision. A spokesman for the Harris County
district attorney's office could not be reached late Friday.
Guidry's victory comes in his second round of
appeals. His first round went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which
refused to hear his case in 2000. His attorney had raised 25
issues, including prosecutorial misconduct, Williams said.
Williams then began a second round of appeals on the confession
and hearsay issues.
DAs move to appeal killer's retrial
Judge ruled Guidry was tricked into confessing murder-for-hire
Harris County prosecutors have asked the state
attorney general's office to appeal a federal judge's order of a
new trial for a death row inmate convicted in the 1994 murder-for-hire
of a Missouri City policeman's wife. "I have spoken to the head of
the division that handles the case, and we will send a written
request," Assistant District Attorney Roe Wilson said Monday.
U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore on Friday
ordered Howard Paul Guidry retried within 180 days or released
from prison. Attorney general spokesman Jerry Strickland said his
office received the appeal request and would decide before the 30-day
deadline for appealing to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Guidry, 27, was convicted of being the
triggerman in the shooting of Farah Fratta, 34, in a plot
masterminded by her husband, former Missouri City police officer
Robert Fratta. Robert Fratta and Joseph Andrew Prystash, whom
Fratta hired to carry out the killing, were convicted of capital
murder and are on death row.
"I am surprised at what has happened," said the
victim's father, Lex Baquer, 70, of Humble. He said he couldn't
form an opinion about Gilmore's order until he speaks with
prosecutors and investigators. Gilmore ruled that a Harris County
sheriff's investigator tricked Guidry into confessing and that
hearsay testimony from Prystash's girlfriend should not have been
admitted. Wilson said the trial court had found that Guidry had
been informed at least five times of his right to counsel but
never asked for an attorney.
Gilmore found that Guidry had asked more than
once to see his attorney but was denied the opportunity. She also
said a sheriff's official told Guidry during his interrogation
that his attorney advised that he speak with the deputies. Guidry
began doing so and eventually confessed, Gilmore's order said. She
also said the trial court should have disallowed hearsay testimony
by Mary Gipp, Prystash's girlfriend, that Prystash paid Guidry
$1,000 to assist in the killing and that he shot Fratta twice in
the head. Normally, witnesses may not testify about things they
did not see.
Wilson said the state 9th Court of Appeals had
found that allowing the testimony might have been an error but
could be allowed because it was backed up by other testimony.
State appeals order for hit man's retrial
DA office had asked for help keeping Guidry on death row
In an effort to keep Howard Paul Guidry on
death row, the state attorney general's office on Thursday sought
to overturn a federal judge's order granting Guidry a new trial.
The office appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
response to a request Monday by the Harris County district
attorney's office, which convinced a jury to convict Guidry on
March 21, 1997. "I'm glad that the attorney general appealed, and
I think it's an opinion that needs to be appealed," said Assistant
District Attorney Roe Wilson.
Guidry's attorney, Kenneth Anthony Williams,
said he expected the appeal. The attorney general's office
declined to comment. Guidry, 27, was sentenced to death for
killing 34-year-old Farah Fratta, who was found in her garage with
two bullet wounds in her head. The 1994 killing was plotted by her
husband, former Missouri City police officer Robert Fratta, who
hired Joseph Andrew Prystash to carry it out. Prystash hired
Guidry. Fratta and Prystash also were convicted of capital murder
and are on death row.
U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore ordered on
Sept. 26 that Guidry be freed from prison if the state fails to
give him a new trial within 180 days. She concluded that he had
been tricked into confessing and that hearsay evidence had been
used to convict him. "The judge found that the detectives were
liars," said another of Guidry's attorneys, Robert Rosenberg.
Williams said Guidry was "overjoyed" to hear of Gilmore's order.
No execution date had been set for Guidry. Williams added that he
believes Guidry's chances are good. "Judge Gilmore wrote a very
strong opinion, and her reasoning was very much justified," he
said. Unfavorable to Guidry, however, is the 5th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals' reputation for being unfriendly to death penalty
appeals, he said.
Each side will submit a series of briefs to a
three-judge panel in a process that may take from a year to a year
and a half before a decision is issued, Williams said. The losing
side can ask to be heard by all 19 members of the 5th Circuit,
then can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Williams said he doubts
the Supreme Court would hear an appeal because the case has no
constitutional questions to be settled. "Essentially, there's not
much recourse if he were to lose this," he said.
Gilmore concluded that a Harris County
sheriff's investigator had ignored Guidry's request to see his
attorney, then lied to him, telling him that his lawyer had given
him permission to speak with police. Guidry eventually confessed.
The judge also found that the trial court should not have allowed
the hearsay testimony of Prystash's girlfriend, Mary Gipp, who
testified that Prystash had told her he paid Guidry $1,000 to
assist in the killing and that Guidry fired the fatal bullets.
Wilson disagreed, saying testimony showed that Guidry was asked
five times if he wanted to see his lawyer. She also said the state
Court of Criminal Appeals found that Gipp's testimony was
Appeals court supports retrial order
Houston judge ruled that a man on death row for a '94 killing
didn't get a fair trial
A federal appeals court has upheld a lower
court ruling granting a new trial to a man sentenced to death in a
murder-for-hire plot. Howard Paul Guidry, 28, was put on death row
in 1997 for killing Farah Fratta, 34. She was found Nov. 9, 1994,
in her garage in north Harris County with two bullet wounds in the
head. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans,
on Friday upheld a ruling made Sept. 26, 2003, by U.S District
Judge Vanessa Gilmore that Guidry was denied access to an attorney
and that inadmissible evidence was allowed to be used against him
during his trial.
"I am very happy with the ruling. I am happy
that the federal courts have upheld his constitutional rights and
realize he did not receive a fair trial," Guidry's attorney,
Kenneth Anthony Williams, said Monday. Assistant district attorney
Kelly Siegler declined to comment on the ruling.
The killing was plotted by the victim's husband,
former Missouri City police Officer Robert Fratta, 47, who hired
Joseph Andrew Prystash to carry it out. Prystash, 48, hired Guidry.
Fratta and Prystash also were convicted of capital murder and are
on death row.
Gilmore ruled that a Harris County sheriff's
investigator had ignored Guidry's request to see his attorney,
then lied to him, telling him that his lawyer had given him
permission to speak with police. Guidry eventually confessed. The
judge also found that the trial court should not have allowed the
hearsay testimony of Prystash's girlfriend, Mary Gipp, who
testified that Prystash had told her he paid Guidry $1,000 to
assist in the killing and that Guidry fired the fatal bullets.
Harris County prosecutors appealed Gilmore's
ruling. Williams said the state can ask for a rehearing on the
matter with the full 5th Circuit, can appeal the decision to the
U.S. Supreme Court, can retry Guidry or drop the charges. Williams
said he has not yet been able to contact Guidry to tell him about
Appeals court urges trial for inmate on
Judges uphold ruling that found man was tricked into confessing
A sharply divided federal appeals court let
stand Tuesday a lower court's order that death row inmate Howard
Paul Guidry be given a new trial because he was tricked into
giving a confession. The majority on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals took the unusual step of writing an opinion accusing the
seven dissenting members, the most conservative and most often at
odds with the U.S. Supreme Court on death penalty cases, of
mischaracterizing the evidence and the law. A three-judge appeals
panel in January affirmed a ruling by U.S. District Judge Vanessa
Gilmore that Guidry deserved a new trial because he was deceived
into making a confession and hearsay testimony contributed to the
Guidry, 29, was convicted March 21, 1997, in
Harris County state court as the triggerman in the murder of Farah
Fratta, 34, in a plot masterminded by her husband, former Missouri
City public safety officer Robert Fratta. Fratta was accused of
hiring Joseph Prystash to carry out the killing. Prosecutors said
Prystash hired Guidry. Fratta and Prystash were convicted of
capital murder and are on death row.
Gilmore found that sheriff's deputies refused
to allow Guidry to see his attorney, then lied, saying his
attorney had given him permission to talk.
After the ruling by the appeals panel, the
Texas Attorney General's Office, which represents Harris County
prosecutors in federal appeals, asked for an "en banc" hearing, or
a hearing by the entire appeals court. The court voted nine to
seven to deny the hearing. The opinion was issued Tuesday. Reached
in the evening, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office said
attorneys associated with the case were unavailable.
Kenneth Williams, one of Guidry's attorneys,
said his client would get a new trial unless prosecutors persuaded
the Supreme Court to hear an appeal. "I would be very shocked if
that happened," he said, because the case has neither national
importance nor involves a disagreement between appeals courts.
U.S. Circuit Judge Rhesa Barksdale, writing for
the majority, said the majority rarely writes an opinion in
denying an en banc review, but an opinion was needed because the
dissent "is wide of the mark."
The dissent, written by U.S. Circuit Judge
Edith Jones, accused the majority of creating "legal mischief" by
failing to abide by the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act, which said federal courts should defer to state
Barksdale pointed out that the Supreme Court,
in a ruling that was widely seen as a rebuke to the 5th Circuit,
ruled earlier this year that the law does not require federal
courts to defer to state courts in cases of obvious injustice.
Along with Jones, the dissent was joined by Judges Edith Clement,
Emilio Garza, Priscilla Owen, E. Grady Jolly, Jerry Smith and
Harold DeMoss. Garza was the dissenting member of the three-judge
panel that agreed with Gilmore. The other two were Barksdale and
New trial likely for condemned
Justices refuse to hear DA's appeals of federal ruling
Two death-row inmates were virtually ensured
new trials Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear
appeals by the state. The refusal means the Harris County District
Attorney's Office must retry Howard Paul Guidry, 29, and Martin
Allen Draughon, 42, or set them free.
"I feel gratified by that," said Kenneth
Williams, one of Guidry's attorneys. "It's been a long battle."
Assistant Harris County District Attorney Roe
Wilson said her office had not decided whether to retry the two.
Guidry was sentenced to death in the 1994 murder-for-hire slaying
of Farah Fratta, 34, in a plot masterminded by her husband, former
Missouri City public safety officer Robert Fratta. Fratta hired
Joseph Prystash to carry out the killing. Prystash's girlfriend
testified during the trial that Prystash told her that he paid
Guidry $1,000 to assist him.
U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore ruled Sept.
26, 2003, that a sheriff's deputy refused to allow Guidry to see
his attorney. The deputy left the room and came back and lied,
saying he had spoken with Guidry's attorney and received
permission to question him, the judge found. Guidry confessed
after about five hours of questioning. Gilmore also threw out the
testimony by Prystash's girlfriend as hearsay evidence. The
confession and the testimony, key to Guidry's conviction, would
not be allowed as evidence in a new trial, Williams said.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals upheld Gilmore's decision. A rehearing by the
full court was denied. Prosecutors have 180 days to try Guidry or
must set him free, according to Gilmore's order.
Jury selection starts in new trial for
Jury selection begins today in the retrial of a
30-year-old man whose 1997 capital murder conviction in the death
of Farah Fratta was overturned by a federal judge. Testimony in
Howard Paul Guidry's trial is expected to start Feb. 19.
In a hearing Monday, visiting state District
Judge Doug Shaver ruled against Guidry's defense team, which had
asked for a continuance to investigate the claims of a jail inmate
scheduled to testify that Guidry confessed to him. In 1997, Guidry
was convicted as the triggerman and sentenced to death in the 1994
Robert Fratta, a former Missouri City public
safety officer, hired Joseph Prystash to carry out the killing of
his wife. Prystash's girlfriend testified during the trial that
Prystash told her that he paid Guidry $1,000 to assist him. Fratta
and Prystash, both convicted of capital murder, are on death row.
In 2004, a federal judge ruled that Guidry
deserved a new trial because he was tricked into confessing. The
judge also said hearsay testimony contributed to the conviction.
Guidry has been in custody since his arrest in 1995.
Victim's children witness retrial of slaying
Grandfather says they haven't had contact with father since he was
put on death row in plot
Thirteen years after Farah Fratta was gunned
down, her three children are watching the death penalty trial of
the man accused of being hired to shoot her. The trial of Howard
Paul Guidry continues today, as prosecutors work to piece together
the lives of Robert Fratta and his wife, Farah, and her last days.
This is Guidry's second trial. In 1997, Guidry
was convicted as the man who shot Farah Fratta twice in the head.
He was sentenced to death in the 1994 murder-for-hire plot
concocted by Robert Fratta, a former Missouri City public safety
officer. Robert Fratta hired Joseph Prystash, who hired Guidry,
prosecutors said Monday. Fratta and Prystash have been convicted
and sentenced to death. In 2004, a federal judge ruled that Guidry
deserved a new trial because he was tricked into confessing. The
judge also said hearsay testimony contributed to his conviction.
Because some of the 1997 trial's evidence has
been excluded, this trial will have different evidence, including
tapes of jail phone calls Guidry made and testimony by a prison
A more striking difference is the presence of
the Fratta children, who are planning to watch segments of the
trial. The couple's three children, now 16, 18 and 20, sat with
Farah Fratta's parents, who raised them after her death. They were
3, 6 and 8 when their mother was killed. "This is the opportunity
for them to find out," Lex Baquer said of his grandchildren's
attendance. "They asked us many times (what happened)."
Baquer said the children haven't had any
contact with their father since he was put on death row. He said a
family law judge determined that it wouldn't be in the children's
best interest. Baquer said the children were particularly
interested in seeing Guidry's trial, because he is accused of
being the gunman.
Prosecutors quietly asked the children and
their grandparents to leave the courtroom before graphic photos of
Fratta's body were shown. The children declined to comment on the
case, except to say they were curious about the details.
And although this is the first time the
children have heard evidence that their father hired someone to
kill their mother rather than face a custody hearing in a messy
divorce, this is the fourth trial Baquer has watched. Monday
morning, tears welled in his eyes as he talked about his daughter.
"Their mother was a beautiful lady. She loved the children," he
said. "When she walked into a room, it just lit up."
Testimony Monday included three men from Robert
Fratta's gym and tanning salon who said Fratta asked them if they
knew anyone who could kill his wife. Police who responded to the
scene and processed the evidence and witnesses to the gunshots
also testified. Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly
Siegler told jurors in opening statements that Guidry killed Farah
Fratta for the love of money. "Today, all these years later,"
Siegler said, "he's as guilty now as he was back then." Siegler
said Fratta's offer for the shooting was $1,010, a Jeep and the
Witness: `I just turned my back'
Killer's girlfriend at the time says she did nothing to stop the
contract hit on Atascocita woman
A woman who says she knew her boyfriend and
another man planned to harm Farah Fratta wept Tuesday as she
admitted doing nothing to prevent Fratta's murder. "I just didn't
want any part of it," Mary Gipp McNeil told jurors. "I just turned
my back." McNeil, of The Woodlands, testified in the capital
murder trial of Howard Paul Guidry, a former neighbor who is
accused of being the trigger man in the 1994 slaying of Fratta.
Guidry, 30, was sentenced to death in 1997. A
federal judge overturned the conviction in 2004, ruling that
Guidry had been tricked into confessing and that hearsay testimony
had contributed to the conviction. Harris County prosecutors are
again seeking a death sentence against Guidry, who has pleaded not
guilty. His attorney, Tyrone Moncriffe, and prosecutors said they
expect testimony in the trial's guilt/innocence phase to be
completed today in the court of visiting Judge Doug Shaver.
The victim's husband, Robert Fratta, and
another man are on death row for their roles in the hired killing.
Prosecutors said Fratta, who was a Missouri City public safety
officer, hired Joseph Prystash to kill his wife and that Prystash
hired Guidry to help him. Farah Fratta was found shot to death at
her Atascocita home on Nov. 9, 1994.
McNeil, who was Prystash's girlfriend at the
time, testified that she knew about the plot but didn't tell
police or try to stop Prystash from going through with it. She
later told her brother that the pair had killed Farah Fratta, she
testified. McNeil said Prystash emptied spent shell casings from a
pistol in her bedroom the night of the shooting, hid the gun among
his clothes in her bedroom and then threw the casings in her
kitchen garbage can. She said she retrieved the casings and later
threw them in a garbage can at a shopping mall.
She also wrote down the serial number of the
.38-caliber pistol because, she said, she knew police would need
the evidence. She gave them that information later and was granted
immunity from prosecution on condition that she tell police all
she knew about the killing. Prosecutors said Guidry was arrested
with the gun that was used to kill Farah Fratta.
'She was my baby,' victim's
Dad apologizes for tears in retrial of alleged hit man in contract
Lex Baquer apologized to jurors Wednesday for
shedding tears as he testified in the trial of the man accused of
murdering his daughter. "She was my baby," Baquer said, wiping his
eyes as he recounted the 1994 hired killing of Farah Fratta.
The woman's husband and another man remain on
death row for their roles in the slaying, but Howard Paul Guidry,
accused of being the triggerman, is on trial a second time. His
original capital murder conviction was overturned. The defense and
prosecution rested their cases Wednesday and jurors are expected
to begin deliberating today after hearing closing arguments.
Guidry, 30, has pleaded not guilty. He received a death sentence
in his first trial and could return to death row if convicted
In his brief testimony, Baquer recounted going
to his daughter's home in Atascocita, in northeast Harris County,
after she was shot twice in the head Nov. 9, 1994. He said
paramedics were trying to help her as she lay on the garage floor.
"I could see she was having convulsions," said Baquer, 73. "She
Fratta, 33, died a short time later. She had
been in the midst of a bitter divorce and child custody battle
with her husband, Robert Fratta, a Missouri City public safety
officer. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death
for hiring Joseph Prystash to commit the murder. Prosecutors say
Prystash, who also was condemned to death, hired Guidry.
A federal judge overturned Guidry's 1997
conviction in 2004, ruling that Guidry had been tricked into
confessing and that hearsay testimony had contributed to the
Also on Wednesday, Scott Basinger, associate
dean of graduate studies at the Baylor College of Medicine,
testified that Guidry told him in 1997 that he had shot Farah
Fratta. Basinger said Guidry made the statement during an
interview before his original trial. Two men who are serving
sentences in Texas prisons also testified that they knew Guidry.
Neandre Perry, 33, who is scheduled for release soon after serving
more than 12 years for aggravated robbery, said Guidry gave him a
.38-caliber pistol. Prosecutors say that pistol had been used to
kill Farah Fratta. Kenno Deshawn Henderson, 30, serving a 25-year
sentence for aggravated robbery, testified he heard Guidry say
that a man owed him $1,000. Prosecutors maintain that Prystash and
Guidry expected to receive about $1,000, a Jeep and the pistol for
carrying out the killing.
Man convicted second time in murder-for-hire
A man was convicted of capital murder a second
time in the murder-for-hire killing of the estranged wife of a
former Missouri City public safety officer. Howard Paul Guidry,
30, showed no emotion as visiting Judge Doug Shaver announced the
The penalty phase of the trial begins Monday
morning. Guidry faces the death penalty in connection with the
1994 killing of Farah Fratta, 33. The 10-man, two-woman jury
deliberated for about two hours.
"We're very happy that he got what he deserved,"
Lex Baquer, Fratta's father, said after the verdict was announced.
He hugged prosecutor Kelly Siegler. Defense attorneys declined to
Second jury chooses death in 1994 killing
Defense hoping for one more reversal in case of slaying for hire
After seeing her mother's killer condemned to
death for a second time, a 16-year-old girl hugged her grandmother
Thursday in a Houston courtroom. "I feel better," said Amber
Baquer. "It's just a relief. It's over."
Howard Paul Guidry, 30, showed no emotion as
visiting Judge Doug Shaver read the sentence. Jurors had convicted
him Feb. 22 of capital murder in the 1994 shooting of Farah Fratta.
The jury of 10 men and two women deliberated about two hours
Thursday before deciding on the sentence.
Guidry was convicted and sentenced to death in
1997, but a federal judge tossed out the conviction, saying Guidry
had been tricked into confessing and that hearsay evidence in his
first trial may have contributed to his conviction. As is
automatic in death-penalty cases, the verdict will be appealed. "It
got reversed once," said defense attorney Loretta Muldrow. "It'll
be reversed again."
Prosecutor Kelly Siegler said Guidry belongs on
death row. He nearly escaped from prison in 1998, she said, and he
and another condemned killer held a guard hostage for 13 hours in
2000 before surrendering. Defense attorney Tyrone Moncriffe
pleaded for a life sentence, saying Guidry would suffer plenty
because of the guilt he would feel over the years. "I'm going to
ask that you not be a killer," Moncriffe told jurors. "You don't
have to kill anyone, folks."
Investigators said the victim's husband, Robert
Fratta, a public safety officer in Missouri City, arranged his 33-year-old
wife's murder. The couple was going through a bitter divorce and
custody battle for their three children. Fratta hired Joseph
Prystash, who hired Guidry. Prosecutors say Guidry attacked Farah
Fratta in the garage of her northeast Harris County home and shot
her with a .38-caliber pistol. Robert Fratta and Prystash are on
death row for their roles in the killing.
After their mother's death, the Frattas'
children were raised by their maternal grandparents, Lex and Betty
Baquer. The family sat together in the courtroom during Guidry's
retrial. Although it was emotionally draining to again hear
details of the killing, they said, they were happy with the
trial's outcome. "It's the end, as far we're concerned," Lex
New trial ordered in wife-killing case
Judge says trial was tainted by actions of DA in '96 contract
Citing what she describes as "constitutionally
inadequate testimony," a federal judge has ordered a new trial for
Robert Fratta, the former Missouri City public safety officer
sentenced to death for masterminding the 1994 fatal shooting of
his wife. Laying fault with the practices of Harris County
prosecutors and detectives, U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon
stated prosecutors "misused" hearsay evidence and investigators "blatantly
violated" the suspected triggerman's civil rights in order to
obtain a confession.
In 1996, Fratta was convicted of arranging the
contract murder of his wife, Farah, then 33. Prosecutors contend
that Fratta had his wife killed after she filed for divorce and
demanded he pay child support for their three children. Fratta
also told several people that he wanted to have his wife murdered.
Additionally, he tried to collect on his wife's $235,000 life
insurance policy days after her death. Fratta and his two alleged
accomplices were all sentenced to death.
On Monday, Farah's father, Lex Baquer, said he
and his wife were "shocked" by Harmon's ruling. "This has brought
a lot of pain to our family."
The evidence against Fratta included a
confession from Howard Guidry, whom prosecutors said was the
shooter. Guidry had been arrested following a bank robbery and was
discovered to have a pistol that was traced back to Fratta.
Guidry's lawyers claimed that during the interrogation
investigators falsely told him they received permission from his
attorney to question him. Guidry then confessed to shooting Farah
Fratta - a job for which he had been promised $1,000 but had never
Harris County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy
Danny Billingsley, the lead investigator in the Fratta case, on
Monday denied any wrongdoing by detectives. "That is blatantly
untrue," Billingsley said. "The man was (advised) of his rights no
less than five times."
In her tersely worded 49-page opinion, Harmon
stated that "police deception alone secured Guidry's cooperation."
Harmon was also skeptical of the circumstances of the confession
of Joseph Prystash, who was convicted of being the middleman in
the murder-for-hire scheme. While in custody, Prystash confessed
to being the getaway driver, after being confronted with Guidry's
confession linking him to the killing.
In her opinion, Harmon wrote that both
Prystash's and Guidry's confessions "laid heavy blame on Fratta
and strongly implicated him in the capital murder while minimizing
(their own) involvement and intent. The content of the statements
... does not lead to a high level of confidence," Harmon stated.
Nor, in the judge's estimation, did the
testimony of Prystash's girlfriend, Mary Gipp, concerning
statements Prystash made to her about the killing, including that
he had gone to get $1,000 from Fratta. The judge described as "hearsay-laden"
and "inadmissible" the testimony given by Gipp - testimony that
the prosecution had labeled as crucial during the opening
arguments of Fratta's trial. "The improperly admitted testimony
more than superficially impacted the jury's consideration of
whether the alleged Fratta-Prystash-Guidry plot involved a murder
for remuneration," wrote the judge. In other words, that evidence
was so critical to the trial, "it tainted it," said Phillip Hilder,
one of Fratta's attorneys.
Harmon's ruling is the second time the federal
courts have found that elements of the Fratta case did not pass
constitutional muster. In 2005, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals threw out Guidry's conviction. The court, like Harmon,
cited questionable investigative tactics and hearsay evidence.
In February, Guidry was convicted a second time
and again sentenced to death. Fratta's attorneys say prosecutors
had other evidence linking Guidry to the slaying. "The prosecution
only had to show at trial that Guidry was the triggerman, and he
was found with the murder weapon on him," said James Rytting,
another of Fratta's appellate attorneys. If there is a retrial of
Fratta, Harmon's ruling will make it much more difficult to prove
that there was a murder-for-hire, his attorneys said.
The Fratta trial was originally prosecuted by
assistant district attorneys Casey O'Brien and Kelly Siegler.
O'Brien has since retired. Siegler declined to comment, saying
that she had not yet reviewed Harmon's opinion. While Harmon was
critical of the methods of both prosecutor and investigators, she
also called Fratta "far from sympathetic. The trial evidence
showed Fratta to be egotistical, misogynistic, and vile, with a
callous desire to kill his wife," Harmon wrote. "The evidence
strongly suggested that Fratta was somehow involved in his wife's
death. Nevertheless, the Constitution places high demands on a
state's ability to carry out the ultimate punishment - and those
standards have not been met in this case."
Court rules ex-officer can be retried
Upholding a lower court's ruling that
inadmissible testimony put him on death row, a former police
officer convicted for his part in a scheme to kill his wife 14
years ago may get a retrial, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
Robert Fratta, a former Missouri City public safety officer, was
convicted in 1996 of persuading Joseph Prystash to hire Howard
Guidry to kill Farah Fratta, then 33.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with
U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon who said prosecutors "misused"
hearsay evidence and investigators "blatantly violated" civil
rights to get a confession. "What happened at trial was a classic
case of prosecutorial overreaching," said James Rytting, one of
Robert Fratta's appellate attorneys.
Kelly Siegler, who prosecuted the three men,
defended her actions. She said the trial judge approved of her
actions and juries convicted the three in separate trials - then
sentenced them to death.
This is the second time prosecutors and police
have been admonished for their actions in the Farah Fratta case.
In 2005, Guidry was granted a new trial. Siegler reconvicted
Guidry last year on new evidence. Although he was sentenced to
death again, his attorneys said the second conviction would also
be thrown out. Siegler said she would return to the Harris County
District Attorney's office to prosecute Fratta again, if asked. "There
are many, many qualified people in that office who could do it,
but I've tried this case four times now and would do it again,"
Siegler said. "It just makes me sick."
A 21-year-veteran of the DA's office, Siegler
quit after her bid for the top job ended when she lost the
Republican nomination to Pat Lycos. Ken Magidson, the interim
district attorney, declined to comment on the Fratta decision or
Siegler's offer because the case remains in the federal court
Procedurally, the Texas attorney general's
office defends the conviction in federal court. Next, the attorney
general can ask the Fifth Circuit for a rehearing or ask the U.S.
Supreme Court to hear the arguments.
RETRIAL For slaying suspect, an unlikely 2nd
chance Appeal leaves prosecutors with no confessions for husband's
new murder trial fratta: Previous testimony ‘hearsay'
Major events in the fratta case
Nov. 9, 1994: Farah Fratta is found shot to
death in her driveway in Atascocita. Her estranged husband, Robert,
a public safety officer in Missouri City, is publicly named as a
suspect shortly after the murder.
April 21, 1995: Robert Fratta is charged with
capital murder. He is accused of hiring two men, Howard Guidry and
April 17, 1996: A jury finds Fratta guilty of
capital mur-der. He is sentenced to die.
July 10, 1996: Joseph Prystash is charged with
hiring Howard Guidry to kill Farah, and with driving Guidry to the
March 26, 1997: Trigger-man Guidry is sentenced
to death for shooting Farah.
Sept. 26, 2003: A federal court overturns the
conviction of Guidry. An appeals court upholds the reversal in
Feb. 22, 2007: Guidry is again convicted of
killing Farah and sent back to death row.
Oct. 1, 2007: Robert Fratta's conviction is
overturned. A judge says the confessions of Guidry and Prystash
should not have been allowed into evidence.
July 22, 2008: The 5th Circuit affirms the
ruling, similarly assailing the evidence against Fratta.
From the moment Farah Fratta fell mortally
wounded to the driveway outside her Atascocita home, detectives
had little doubt about the person most likely responsible for her
death. Her estranged husband, Robert, all but arrived at the
sheriff's office for questioning with "prime suspect" stamped on
his shirt. He frequently had spoken to others about wanting his
wife dead, police say. He behaved suspiciously on the night of her
death - Nov. 9, 1994 - and in the days immediately after. He
seemed so blasé and uncooperative that detectives concluded he was
behind her death long before they had enough evidence to prove it.
In time, that evidence arrived, mostly in the
form of confessions from two supposed co-conspirators, Howard
Guidry and Joseph Prystash, and a corroborating statement from
Prystash's girlfriend. To no one's surprise, Fratta was convicted
and sentenced to death, as were the two co-defendants. But the
case against him fell apart on appeal, and suddenly a slam-dunk
conviction began to look like a challenge. On Monday, jury
selection will begin in Fratta's new trial. This time prosecutors
will have to make do without the confessions or key portions of
girlfriend Mary Gipp's testimony.
Retrials seldom pan out much better for capital
murder defendants than the first ones, but Fratta's case could
prove different. The judge who reversed his conviction, U.S.
District Judge Melinda Harmon, was emphatic about the poor quality
of the state's case against him absent the confessions: "The trial
evidence showed Fratta to be egotistical, misogynistic and vile,
with a callous desire to kill his wife," Harmon wrote in her 2007
opinion. "The evidence strongly suggested that Fratta was somehow
involved in his wife's death ... Only the inadmissible statements
by Guidry and Prystash and Ms. Gipp's hearsay-laden testimony
neatly tied that circumstantial evidence into a coherent
prosecutorial theory of capital murder as alleged in the
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed
with her, which means prosecutors this time around must produce
more evidence if they want to get a conviction that will stand up
on appeal. Or perhaps if they want a conviction at all. "A
reasonable jury could very well acquit Mr. Fratta of capital
murder," said James Rytting, who represented Fratta on appeal. "The
state's case is particularly weak when it comes to proving Mr.
Fratta paid anybody to commit murder."
One of his new trial lawyers, Vivian King, is
similarly unimpressed by what she has seen since being appointed
to the case last year. She said she would not be shocked if
prosecutors tried to find a way to get the confessions and Gipp's
statement into evidence despite the appellate opinions because of
the dearth of solid evidence. "It's all circumstantial evidence,
and I don't see a lot of it," King said.
Prosecutors Mia Magness and Denise Bradley
declined to speak about the case.
The notion that Fratta could go free is
troubling to many who are familiar with the circumstances of his
wife's death or the publicity surrounding it. Testimony at his
trial and in proceedings related to the divorce painted a sordid
picture of sexual deviance, physical abuse and calculated murder.
He had no qualms about expressing his desire to see her dead or
reservations about showing a friend an account of her daily
activities for use by a potential assassin. He calmly mentioned to
another that there was no way he would let any other man "play
with" the breast implants he had insisted she get as a condition
of continued marriage.
Fratta's appeal, however, highlighted a
prosecution that was troubled in its own way. It relied on the
statements of Guidry and Prystash and the testimony of Gipp, but
the first two were not available for cross-examination after
invoking their Fifth Amendment rights.
What evidence is left
Harmon ruled that the conglomeration of hearsay
testimony - including an illegally obtained confession from Guidry
- should not have been admitted, and that Fratta was denied the
right to confront his accusers.
The original lead prosecutor, Kelly Siegler,
said she tried to cut a deal with Prystash, the middleman and
getaway driver, to secure his testimony in the trials of Fratta
and Guidry. Prystash refused, and because his conviction has not
been overturned, there is no incentive for him to testify against
Fratta this time around and no ethical way to induce his
cooperation. "There's no legal way to offer a deal, even if he
would take it," Siegler said.
That leaves a modest assortment of
circumstantial evidence, including $1,050 in cash found in
Fratta's car on the night of the slaying, which the prosecution
will claim to be part of the payoff, and a gun once belonging to
Fratta that was found in the possession of the triggerman when he
was arrested four months later. Whether it is the murder weapon
could be the subject of a battle of expert witnesses. King said
she did not know if investigators had come up with anything new. A
former prosecutor, she expects "big surprises" from Magness and
Bradley. "They'll approach it differently," she said. "They'll