Killer walks halls as execution stalled

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Larry Barker Investigators

SAN JUAN COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – Meet 23-year-old Bobby Fry. As seen in this 1996 home video, he appears to be a low key guy and sometimes the life of the party.

Whether yukking it up on Halloween or a balloon fight, Bobby Fry’s antics appear to be just harmless play.

But don’t let these images deceive you.

“I’m currently serving three life sentences, and I am on death row,” Fry told an MSNBC reality show from inside the Penitentiary of New Mexico.  “I am in for four counts of murder.”

The facts are clear: Bobby Fry is a vicious mad-dog killer whose trail of blood across San Juan County led to the savage beating deaths of four victims. His weapons of choice included knives, a broomstick and a sledgehammer.

Today Bobby Fry ranks as one of New Mexico’s most heinous serial killers.

How could anybody be so evil? Ask former San Juan County Assistant District Attorney Joe Gribble.

“You want me to give you about who he is or what he’s about?” Gribble said.  “There’s no way I know.

“But I’ll tell you this:  Based on the facts of the case, there’s no question. He’s a cold blooded murderer.”

To Assistant Attorney General Steve Suttle, part of the prosecution team, Fry is simply a wanton killer.

“He’s that brutal. He’s that unsocialized that apparently for him killing’s just fun,” Suttle said.  “Picking a random victim and killing them just for fun. There’s no robbery here. There’s no motive of monetary gain.

“There’s no motive of past acrimony.  He just kills people, and apparently he enjoys killing people.”

Fry’s murderous rampage began on Thanksgiving 1996 at a Farmington head shop called Eclectic. He wanted to eliminate witnesses to a burglary, so Fry murdered and nearly decapitated Joseph Fleming, 25, and Matthew Trecker, 18.

“They were beaten, had their throats cut,” Fry said. They died violently, very violently.”

Two years later, Fry and a friend, Leslie Engh, met Donald Tsosie at a Farmington bar and offered to give him a ride home. Instead they lured Tsosie, 40, to the rugged backcountry near the Arizona border.

Tsosie was from Ganado, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation. On that April night 15 years ago he was beaten, robbed, kicked, hit with a shovel and a broomstick. Then he was shoved off a cliff. His body was found a month later.

“They poked his eyes with a stick and injured him further after they had beaten him, and he died sometime later left in the desert,” said Dustin O’Brien, chief deputy district attorney for San Juan County.  “He chose victims that needed help. He chose people that were defenseless.  He’s a monster.”

And then there’s Betty Lee, a 36-year-old Diné College student at Shiprock.

“It’s not easy to come to terms with the fact that she is gone,” her brother Phillip Joe told KRQE News 13.  “To think about what she endured and the time that the assault was taking place was, I can’t picture somebody doing that to her.”

“She was always bright and accommodating and sociable and cheerful and always liked to tease us as her brothers and sisters,” added Betty’s brother Rev. Bill Lee.  “So she always had a smile on her face.”

Betty Lee’s nightmare took place on a June evening 13 years ago. She was stranded without a car and needed a ride home. Fry and Engh offered to help. They drove to this desolate spot in rural San Juan County and then, without warning, viciously attacked the mother of four.

“It’s probably a woman’s worst nightmare,” ex-prosecutor Gribble said.

Detectives would interrogate Engh at length recording his admissions on video.

“When Bobby, Bobby first grabbed her hair and pulled her out, she yelled, ‘Why?  Why are you doing this to me?  What are you doing?”‘ he said during the interrogation.

“I can’t even imagine what was going through her head during this time,” ex-prosecutor Gribble said.  “He stabbed her, and then Betty Lee was able to pull the knife out, escaped.

“And then (Fry) went to his car and got a sledge hammer, chased her down and killed her.  I couldn’t imagine a worse situation for anyone. It’s a horrible death.”

During his interrogation Engh said Lee screamed when Fry hit her with the sledge hammer.

“When he was swinging it, and then she just, she just stopped after a couple of times of him swinging it,” Engh told detectives.

“They beat her to death for absolutely no reason,” Suttle said.  “One of those crimes that just defies explanation in terms of why would anybody do this unless it was just for the fun of it?”

For Betty Lee’s sister and brother, life would never be the same.

“I am just really scared,” Bessie Kee said.  “I don’t think it’s safe to live in this world if you know what the men did to her.”

“It’s been very hard. She was dad’s favorite girl.”

“To think about what she endured and the time that the assault was taking place was, I can’t picture somebody doing that to her,” Phillip Joe said.  “The punishment that he has been given I believe is righteous.  It is not my right to say he should die, but the level of evil that he has committed makes it hard to try and reason for forgiveness.”

Following his conviction for the deaths of Trecker and Fleming, Fry was handed two consecutive life prison terms. For the murder of Donald Tsosie, he was sentenced to a third life sentence. And for killing Betty Lee, a jury ruled 28-year-old Bobby Fry be put to death.

That was 11 years ago.

Since then Fry’s lawyers have been fighting hard to keep their client out of the execution chamber. And even though the Betty Lee murder conviction was upheld on appeal years ago, his execution date can’t be set due to creative manipulation by his lawyers.

“He’s not facing death in the near future,” O’Brien said.  “It’s not likely that that sentence will be executed anytime soon.”

The delays and court extensions are due the defense team, he added.

Fry’s public defender did not return a call from KRQE News 13 asking for comment on the case.

Before a death sentence can be carried out, the case must be reviewed twice: first by the New Mexico Supreme Court and secondly by the federal courts. However, in Bobby Fry’s case neither has happened. His legal defense team has put up one roadblock after another. Robert Fry’s death sentence has been on hold for almost 10 years.

“The victims of this case and society in general deserve to have the penalty assessed carried out,” Suttle said.  “It was the law at the time, it was properly applied, and people should be concerned that someone can delay that through maneuvering for this many years.”

For the last 11 years, Robert Fry has bided his time in maximum security at the Penitentiary of New Mexico outside Santa Fe.

“There’s nothing I’ve done that God hasn’t forgiven me for,” Fry said.

These days, he strolls the prison halls, Bible in hand, telling a TV reality show he’s a changed man.

“You hear a lot of people who come to prison and, ‘Oh, I found God.  Well, I did,” he said during the MSNBC reality show.

Is Bobby Fry remorseful? We don’t know. Here’s what we do know. Along a rutted dirt road in San Juan County’s rugged backcountry are some faded flowers, a memorial to the memory of Betty Lee, murdered on this spot 13 years ago.

“It just seems like yesterday that she left us,” Betty Lee’s niece Wilhelma Clah said.  “It was really brutal what she had to endure.  We just want to put this behind us and make sure that justice is done.”

Convicted and sentenced to the death penalty in 2002, and it’s now 2013. Has justice been done in the case of Robert Fry?  O’Brien thinks not for the victims and not for their families, and Suttle thinks not for society as a whole.

“You reach a point, I think, Larry, where because of your behavior you cease to have the right to live among the rest of us,” Suttle said.  “I think Robert Fry based on this record and what I know about the case, is one of those people.”

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