LINCOLN COUNTY • Prosecuting Attorney Leah Askey pressured a witness in the Russell Faria murder trial and showed “dereliction of duty” by failing to disclose her relationship with another witness, according to a motion filed Wednesday seeking a new trial.
Faria is serving a life term after being convicted of stabbing his terminally ill wife, Betsy Faria, to death in their home here on Dec. 27, 2011.
The motion does not differ markedly from what Faria’s lawyers filed in December as part of a broader appeal.
But they cast their latest claims in a more critical light and added new detail — including an affidavit by Askey’s stepbrother that he became aware in 2011 of allegations that she was having an affair with a sheriff’s deputy. Faria’s lawyers say the affair was with Capt. Mike Lang, currently the Lincoln County undersheriff.
Neither Askey nor Lang responded to messages from a reporter Wednesday.
A Feb. 24 order from the Missouri Court of Appeals in St. Louis said facts in the allegations could have produced a different verdict, and gave Faria’s lawyers until March 12 to file the motion for a new trial.
Circuit Judge Chris Kunza Mennemeyer has 90 days to hold a hearing and make a ruling.
Questions about the investigation and trial of Faria, 45, were the subject of a joint Post-Dispatch-Fox 2 investigation last year. Russell Faria has denied involvement in the killing, as has Pam Hupp, Betsy Faria’s friend.
At Faria’s trial, Lang testified about various people’s cellphone usage on the night of the murder.
Wednesday’s motion says that Lang initially made no effort to secure information about the whereabouts of Betsy Faria and Hupp, who dropped her off at home the night she was slain.
“Possibly exculpatory evidence may have been permanently lost” before Lang responded to repeated defense requests for the information, the motion says. “Officer Lang’s relationship with Prosecutor Askey places those lapses in a much harsher light.”
The motion also says that, according to a deposition in a civil case last year, Hupp said she felt pressured by authorities to set up a trust fund for Betsy Faria’s daughters with money Hupp had received from insurance on her friend’s life.
The beneficiary was changed days before the killing, and the trust was dissolved after Faria’s conviction. Hupp now says that the money was intended for her, not the daughters.
“Hupp’s new statement under oath specifically calls out (Askey and the investigator) for pressuring a state witness into taking an action solely for the purpose of buttressing the state’s case,” the motion says.
Askey also had filed motions to limit Faria’s lawyers from cross-examining Hupp in the trial about her whereabouts and possible motive, the motion says. “Even more pernicious was the prosecution’s deliberate silence when this witness testified falsely” about the trust “despite explicit knowledge that its witness had perjured herself on the stand.”