An insurance company has agreed to pay $2 million to settle claims that police misconduct put Russell Faria in prison for life in connection to the fatal stabbing of his wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria, in Lincoln County in 2011, lawyers for Faria said Monday.
Faria’s conviction was overturned in 2013, in part because he wasn’t able to argue in court that an alternate suspect killed his wife. He was found not guilty at a retrial later that year, after spending a total of 42 months in prison, his lawyers said.
The case has been the subject of national attention, including by NBC’s “Dateline” and documentary filmmakers.
Joel Schwartz, one of Faria’s lawyers, said, “He’s thrilled.” Faria’s lawyers filed a court document Friday indicating that a settlement had been worked out. Lawyer Bevis Schock said the settlement had been agreed to but not signed. Lawyers for the investigators named in Faria’s lawsuit did not immediately respond to an email request seeking comment.
Faria and his lawyers had long complained that police should have focused on Pamela Hupp, a friend of Betsy Faria, who went on to fatally shoot a mentally disabled man in 2016. Hupp is now serving a term of life in prison without parole.
Faria’s lawsuit, filed in 2016, claimed that he was arrested without probable cause and that police fabricated evidence and failed to investigate Hupp, who was the more obvious suspect. Lawyers for police have denied that and are not going to admit wrongdoing in the settlement, which is for the limits of the insurance policy, Faria’s lawyers said.
Faria returned home on Dec. 27, 2011, to find his wife dead. She had been stabbed an estimated 55 times. She was dying of cancer at the time.
Although he had four alibi witnesses backed by store and restaurant receipts and surveillance cameras, he was arrested and charged with murder. Then-Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney Leah Askey argued that either his alibi witnesses were in on the crime or Faria had time to kill his wife and then shower before calling 911. Faria’s lawyers said there was insufficient evidence to make either claim.
One of the jurors who convicted Faria told the Post-Dispatch that the jury was not 100% convinced of his guilt but knew the case would be appealed.
Hupp was the last known person to see Betsy Faria alive and had been named the new beneficiary of a $150,000 life insurance policy days before Faria’s murder.
She has repeatedly changed her story about the night of the murder, but has denied killing Betsy Faria.
Hupp is now serving life in prison without parole for the fatal shooting of Louis Gumpenberger, 33, of St. Charles, on Aug. 16, 2016, at her O’Fallon, Missouri, home.
Prosecutors say Hupp staged a fake kidnapping by Gumpenberger to divert attention from herself in a reinvestigation of the Faria murder. They claim she cruised St. Charles County, claiming to be a producer for NBC’s “Dateline” news show in need of help reenacting a 911 call. Hupp shot Gumpenberger, who had mental and physical disabilities from a DUI accident, while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, claiming that Gumpenberger had kidnapped her at knifepoint.
St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar said the crime was “sloppy,” and her claims began to unravel as soon as investigators listened to the 911 call. He said her scheme resembled something cooked up by a middle school student.
In June 2019, she entered what is sometimes known as an Alford plea to the murder charge, not admitting the murder but acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her.
She has since declined an interview request from the Post-Dispatch, which has investigated the Faria murder with KTVI (Channel 2) since 2013.
The announcement of the settlement follows by just under two weeks a federal appeals court decision declining to overturn a lower court’s ruling in an insurance dispute. A federal judge in St. Louis had ruled that Argonaut Great Central Insurance Co. was responsible for defending Lincoln County against the suit. Argonaut had argued, among other things, that the policy excluded “malicious conduct” and that the policy began after the murder and Faria’s first arrest. Another insurance policy was in place at the time.
Askey, now Leah Chaney, was dismissed last year from the suit by U.S. District Court Judge John Ross, as was Lincoln County. Schock said that limited Faria’s ability to collect a larger settlement or jury award. Schock said Faria could have appealed, but it might have taken years.
A separate insurance company, whose policy ended four days after Betsy Faria’s death, also agreed to pay $50,000 to settle the case, lawyers said. The settlement will end claims against Ryan McCarrick, Michael Merkel and Patrick Harney, the investigators involved in the case.