TROY, Mo. • Russell Faria, once ordered to serve life in prison for the murder of his wife, walked free from court here Friday after a judge found him not guilty in a retrial.
Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer, on loan to Lincoln County from St. Louis, criticized the investigation of the death of Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria, saying it was “rather disturbing and frankly raised more questions than answers.”
He said this week’s trial left him to weigh two competing versions: that Russell Faria killed his wife out of “passion and rage,” or that her friend, Pamela Hupp, had conspired to kill her and frame him for the crime. In the end, Ohmer said, there was not enough to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Members of Russell Faria’s family, who sat bowed in the courtroom pews waiting for the outcome, let out a collective sigh and lifted their heads when the first not-guilty verdict, for first-degree murder, was read. When Ohmer acquitted him of second-degree murder and armed criminal action too, his family and friends jumped in their seats.
Faria, 45, hugged defense lawyers Joel Schwartz and Nathan Swanson. He said he would try to put his life together and may have a job lined up with a friend in Arizona. He already was free on bail.
Asked what he felt, he said, “Relief. Glad it’s over. Finally.”
Some of Faria’s relatives left the courtroom and donned purple T-shirts printed with his picture and the words “Russell Faria Innocent.”
Said Schwartz: “We’re happy that justice has finally begun to prevail. I still hope for justice for Betsy and her family.”
He also said he hoped the U.S. attorney’s office or Missouri attorney general will continue to investigate the death.
Prosecuting Attorney Leah Askey issued a statement that said, “While I believe in our justice system, I disagree with this verdict. My job is to seek justice for our victims and present evidence in the best way I can. My condolences go out to Betsy Faria’s family.”
Members of Betsy Faria’s family declined to comment.
Lawyers for both sides made their closing arguments late Friday morning with neither having called Hupp as a witness. She was portrayed by the defense throughout the trial as a strong alternative suspect.
Hupp sat in the back of the courtroom gallery for a while as the trial wrapped up Friday morning, and spent some time waiting in the prosecutor’s office. She left before the verdict was announced about 4 p.m.
Faria’s 2013 conviction had been overturned after defense complaints that the first trial judge refused to allow presentation of evidence pointing at Hupp.
Ohmer was assigned as a new judge in the case, and Faria chose to leave his fate with him rather than another jury.
Askey argued that Faria stabbed his wife, Betsy Faria, 42, at their home outside Troy on Dec. 27, 2011.
The prosecution offered his slippers, found in a closet stained with his wife’s blood, as evidence, along with the testimony about the couple’s rocky marriage and a note on the victim’s computer expressing fear of him.
The defense presented four alibi witnesses who put Faria miles away when his wife likely died. Schwartz said the slippers and note could have been planted to frame his client. Both sides provided expert witnesses to back up their assertions.
Attention was focused on Hupp, a friend of Betsy Faria who was the last person known to have seen her alive. Hupp collected $150,000 in life insurance on her after becoming beneficiary several days before the killing.
The defense insists that Hupp has made contradictory statements. That may explain why she was not called to testify in the second trial, even though she had been a prosecution witness in the first.
A detective told the court Thursday that last summer, 3½ years after the killing, Hupp told police for the first time that she and the victim had been lovers, and that Russell Faria was angry about it.
Questions posed to the detective by Schwartz — but blocked by a prosecution objection — also implied that after years of saying she saw nobody else when she dropped off the victim that night, she recently told police she had seen Russell Faria and someone else in a vehicle in the driveway
Hupp has told the Post-Dispatch she did not kill Betsy Faria.
Faria’s conviction was the subject of questions raised in a joint Post-Dispatch/STLtoday and Fox 2 News investigation last year.