Man sentenced to prison for killing his schoolteacher wife

Mark Franta was called a coward, heartless and evil during his sentencing hearing Thursday for strangling his schoolteacher wife.

He was also called Dad.

Torn by the loss of their mother, Marybeth Franta, at the hands of their father, the couple's adult children choked back tears as they conveyed their love for Mark Franta, 51.

Their daughter, Ashley Franta, also asked for leniency.

Marybeth Franta's family did not. They said Mark Franta, an admitted alcoholic, deserved the harshest sentence possible.

After an emotional, hourlong hearing, Judge Michelle Leavitt handed down the maximum sentence allowed under the law: 10 years to life in prison.

Franta pleaded guilty in March to second-degree murder via an Alford plea, which means he didn't admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors could prove their case against him.

Authorities said Marybeth Franta, a teacher at Molasky Middle School in the northwest valley, returned home the evening of Nov. 13, 2010, after attending a wedding and argued with her husband, who had been drinking. Mark Franta then strangled her.

Las Vegas police said video footage from two businesses recorded Mark Franta early Nov. 14, 2010, near the place where his wife's body was found.

Later that day, He reported his wife missing and repeatedly called her cellphone. He showed up at her school the following Monday looking for her. He was arrested days later.

Marybeth Franta's death shocked many, including Molasky students and colleagues and members of the local equestrian community. She was a former director of the Nevada State Horsemen's Association. A tree was planted in her honor at the school and a scholarship fund set up in her memory.

On Thursday, Mark Franta did not apologize for his wife's murder. He said he couldn't recall what happened. "If I had done this, if I had known I had done this, I would stand up and say, 'Yes, send me to prison.' And I have done that."

He added, "Society has lost a tremendous woman in my wife. I lost my best friend."

Ashley Franta, who lives in Oregon, asked the judge to give her father a sentence of 10 to 25 years, the only other sentencing option.

Locking up her father for the rest of his life "accomplishes nothing," Ashley Franta said. "He is not a threat to society."

Ashley Franta also described growing up with a "loving, nonviolent, normal family."

While there had been no documented instances of domestic violence during the couple's marriage of more than 20 years, Marybeth Franta's parents and sister told a different story.

Her father, Dale Nitzschke, described one incident in 1985 while she was pregnant with the couple's son, her two brothers had to break down a door and pull Mark Franta from atop her.

"She tried very hard to shelter us" from the domestic violence, said Nitzschke, a former UNLV administrator.

Marybeth Franta's sister, Lori Nitzschke, testified she immediately suspected Mark Franta when she learned her sister was murdered because of the history of domestic violence.

"I hope he is beaten and has to beg for his life like I'm sure my sister did," she said, before calling him an "evil, heartless coward."

During his testimony, Brandon Franta called his father's actions reckless and unjustifiable. "We are all suffering for it. Including himself," Brandon Franta said.

He also said he believed his father had no memory of what really happened that night.

And he vouched for his father's penchant for helping those in need, including a widow and his mother's friends and acquaintances.

He "gave his all to be what he knew everyone else needed him to be," Brandon Franta said.

"Some people would like to paint my dad as an evil person. And my dad is not evil. He is, however, a man who has made a poor choice. A choice that has left a hole in the heart of almost every person here, including his own."

Brandon Franta told the judge that he could not offer a recommendation for his father's sentence. He said that whatever was given would be judged "too harsh by some and too tame by others."

Instead he offered this: "I loved my mother with all of my heart just as I love my father with every ounce of the same heart."

Outside the courtroom, Brandon Franta, who lives in Utah, said the hearing was an emotional roller coaster. He said he has maintained good relationships with both sides of his extended family.

As far as the sentence, which included his father being eligible for parole in 10 years, he said, "I will accept what's been handed down. Maybe I will get to hug my dad again. Maybe I won't."

Nearby, Marybeth Franta's mother, Barbara Armbreuster, stood visibly shaking and crying.

During her testimony, she had begged the judge for the harshest sentence possible for Mark Franta and expressed her love for her grandchildren.

Outside the courtroom, she said, "I feel incredibly sad for my grandchildren. But I think he got what he deserved."

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at or 702-380-1039.