TROY, Mo. • When a judge in Lincoln County acquitted a man Friday in his wife’s murder, it answered one question — whether Russell Faria would spend the rest of his life in prison.
But many more questions are left unanswered.
Among them: Will police and prosecutors revisit the death investigation, or look into Pamela Hupp — the woman that Faria’s attorneys blamed for the death of Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria?
And what of investigators, who were accused by defense attorneys of hiding evidence, lying on the witness stand, threatening one of Faria’s alibi witnesses and suggesting that Hupp change her story to bolster their case?
Joel Schwartz, one of Faria’s attorneys, called for more investigation. He also said that he needed “to let the dust settle and think about what I’m going to do,” but mentioned a civil suit against police as an option. He declined to comment on the prospect of a lawsuit against prosecutors on behalf of Faria, who spent 3½ years behind bars after being convicted in an earlier trial.
Prosecuting Attorney Leah Askey issued a brief statement Friday evening that expressed condolences for Betsy Faria’s family and said that Askey disagreed with the retrial verdict.
She did not return messages seeking comment Saturday. A Lincoln County sheriff’s spokesman could not be reached.
The fatal stabbing of Betsy Faria, 42, on Dec. 27, 2011, was the subject of a joint investigation in 2014 between the Post-Dispatch/STLtoday and Fox 2. It also has been featured on NBC’s “Dateline.”
Russell Faria, now 45, was convicted in 2013 and was serving a sentence of life without parole when, in February, an appeals court made the rare move of ordering a judge to quickly revisit several issues in the case.
A new judge eventually was picked for the case: St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer. He ordered a new trial and ruled that Faria’s attorneys should have been allowed by Lincoln County Judge Chris Kunza Mennemeyer in the first trial to point a finger at Hupp, a friend of the victim’s, as an alternative suspect.
Hupp had dropped Betsy Faria off at the Farias’ home outside of Troy the night of the killing and was the last person known to have seen her alive.
She also had become the beneficiary of one of Betsy Faria’s life insurance policies, worth $150,000, days before the murder. Hupp shifted her story about where Betsy Faria wanted the money to go, what Hupp saw and did on the night of the murder and details of Russell Faria’s personality and potential motives.
She has repeatedly denied any role in the crime. She could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Askey said Russell Faria was motivated by passion and rage, and perhaps by fear of losing the insurance proceeds when his wife, who had terminal cancer, died naturally.
Askey pointed to his slippers — stained with Betsy Faria’s blood — found in a closet, the testimony of witnesses who spoke of the couple’s rocky marriage and a note written on Betsy Faria’s computer five days before her death, expressing fear of him.
The prosecutor also implied faults with his alibi and with his actions and statements after he discovered his wife’s body.
But Russell Faria’s cellphone records, four alibi witnesses and a series of errands put him miles away, at a game night with friends in O’Fallon, Mo., when the crime appears to have taken place. No time of death was ever established, but a paramedic testified that Betsy Faria’s body was stiff and cold when they responded to her husband’s 911 call.
After the verdict Friday, Russell Faria said he had a possible job offer with a friend at a startup company in Arizona.
Betsy Faria’s family declined to comment.
CALLS FOR MORE INVESTIGATION
What local investigators will do now is unclear.
In last week’s retrial, Detective Sgt. Ryan McCarrick said he believed Hupp during the investigation. She was not then and is still not a suspect, he said. McCarrick, who was formerly with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and is now with Florissant police, was a supervisor of the Major Case Squad investigation into the murder.
Betsy Faria’s mother, Janet Meyer, also said in testimony that she did not think Hupp was a “murderess.” Meyer could not be reached Saturday.
As recently as the week before the trial, investigators were still trying to crack Russell Faria’s alibi by offering one of his witnesses immunity.
Schwartz called Friday on the U.S. attorney’s office and the Missouri attorney general’s office to investigate.
In a brief telephone interview Friday night, U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said, “A determination that the government has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty wouldn’t in and of itself trigger an independent investigation.” He continued, “However ... I think the case is something that is at least worth our office visiting with the judge and the attorney general’s office, as well as the local prosecutor.”
Told of Callahan’s statement, Schwartz said, “I would welcome them talking to me as well as my client,” adding, “I would be more than happy to share the results of my investigation with them.”
Schwartz said that it was “not possible for (Faria) to have committed the crime” and that he would like to hear a determination of “actual innocence,” not just a not-guilty verdict.
A spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster could not be reached. Askey was assisted in the first trial by a lawyer for Koster’s office.
Hupp was present in the courthouse and in court for part of the trial, although she left before Ohmer reached his verdict. Faria opted to leave his fate to Ohmer, rather than a jury, in this trial.
Hupp had been subpoenaed by both sides as a potential witness, but neither side called her.
Schwartz suggested that Askey lacked confidence in Hupp’s testimony and said that if it were so, Askey should have dismissed the case or at least investigated Hupp.
He said it was “awfully suspicious and would show the trier of fact (the judge) that the state, who possesses the burden of proof, is unwilling or unable to or frankly, frightened to, allow the trier of fact to evaluate this person’s testimony because they themselves don’t believe it.”
He also said that, generally, ethics rules prohibit lawyers from calling a witness that they believe would lie.
It won’t be Hupp’s last time in court.
Betsy Faria’s daughters have sued Hupp, claiming that their mother had wanted them to receive the $150,000 in insurance proceeds. They said Hupp had changed her story — initially telling the family and police that Betsy Faria wanted her daughters to have the money, then saying that it was hers.
That trial is scheduled for January.
A lawyer involved in a case involving the death of Hupp’s mother watched part of the trial.
Not quite two years after Betsy Faria’s murder, in October 2013, Hupp’s mother, Shirley Neumann, 77, died in a fall through the balcony of her third-floor apartment, police have said. There were no known witnesses. A lawsuit was filed in February against the retirement home, a general contractor and others.
The lawyer declined to comment. But during a break and in open court, there was discussion between Faria’s attorneys and prosecutors about the death.
Schwartz said Saturday, “We requested a break to investigate the information we had received from that attorney,” but he said the request had been denied.
INVESTIGATING THE INVESTIGATORS
Also unclear was what might happen amid allegations of prosecutorial and police misconduct.
In closing arguments, Schwartz called the prosecution’s case “mere, unadulterated speculation.” He said Saturday that Faria should never have been charged based on the evidence investigators had.
Defense attorneys accused police in court of lying on the stand and suggesting to Hupp that she bolster their case by changing her story.
Though a defense attorney’s attacking the reputation of witnesses, especially police officers, is a common tactic, the judge also faulted the investigation before he announced his verdict.
Ohmer called it “rather disturbing” and said that it “raised more questions than answers.”
A detective told the court Thursday that only in June 2015 did Hupp claim that she and Betsy Faria had been lovers since 2006 and that Russell Faria had threatened Hupp if she returned to the Farias’ home. Hupp also offered new versions of her actions after dropping off her friend that night, saying she was stopped at a fork in the road for 10-15 minutes.
Four months after that interview, during which a detective offered the investigators’ theory of the murder, Hupp said for the first time that she had seen Russell Faria and someone else at or near the house that night, according to court testimony.
During the trial, Schwartz and colleague Nathan Swanson repeatedly complained that the prosecutor had failed to turn over evidence.
During one exchange, Ohmer raised his voice and said to Askey, “There’s an obligation for you to turn over everything to them.”
Later, he said, “Let’s talk about this at another time.”