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Russell Faria

Other Missouri Exonerations with Official Misconduct
At 9:40 p.m. on December 27, 2011, 41-year-old Russell Faria called 911 to report that he had found his 42-year-old wife, Elizabeth, stabbed to death in their home in Troy, Missouri. Screaming, he said she had committed suicide.

Police immediately suspected Faria because his wife’s death was clearly not a suicide—she had been stabbed more than 50 times and the knife was embedded her neck. Her body was cold to the touch, indicating that she had been dead for at least a couple of hours.

Faria told police that his wife was dying of breast and liver cancer and had spoken of suicide in the past, so he jumped to a conclusion when he saw her body. He said that he left their home at 5:30 p.m. that day, made a couple of purchases, and then drove about a half hour away to Lake Saint Louis, Missouri, to watch a movie with friends. He said he left about 9 p.m., bought a sandwich’s at an Arby’s restaurant (he had a receipt and was seen on a surveillance video) and then drove the 25 miles to their home where he discovered the body and called police.

Pamela Hupp, a friend of the victim, told police that at about 6:30 p.m. she picked up Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria in O’Fallon, Missouri, and drove her home. She said she dropped her off around 7 p.m. Cell telephone records later showed that Hupp made a call to her husband at 7:04 p.m. from a location near the Faria home.

Police found Russell Faria’s bedroom slippers, smeared with his wife’s blood, in his closet.

On January 4, 2012, after his wife’s funeral, police arrested Faria and charged him with first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

Faria went to trial in November 2013 in Lincoln County Circuit Court. A detective testified that the victim’s blood was found on Faria’s slippers. The prosecution played the tape of Faria’s 911 call and a supervisor of the 911 operator who took the call testified that it was unusual because Faria was going in and out of hysteria, suggesting that his demeanor was staged.

Hupp testified that she dropped off the victim and immediately left. She also testified that three days before the murder, the victim had named her the beneficiary of a $150,000 life insurance policy and that she had later put $100,000 into a trust for the victim’s daughters. Faria had remained the beneficiary on a separate $100,000 policy.

The defense presented evidence of Faria’s trip to see friends in Lake Saint Louis, his purchase at the Arby’s and the time and distance required to go back and forth to show that he could not have killed his wife. There was no blood on Faria’s clothing on the day of the crime and the clothing he was wearing when police arrived matched the clothing he was wearing when seen on the video surveillance on his way home. The defense argued the bloody slippers had been planted in Faria’s closet by the killer.

The trial judge refused to allow the defense to present cell telephone evidence that showed that the victim’s friend, Huff, appeared to have remained near the Faria home for as long as 30 minutes past the time she originally said she left after dropping the victim off.

The prosecution contended that Faria and his friends lied about his whereabouts and that after Hupp dropped the victim off at home, Faria killed her, drove to the Arby’s to establish an alibi, then returned home to claim he had discovered the body. Any hysteria displayed by Faria on the 911 call was play-acting, according to the prosecution.

In closing argument, Lincoln County prosecutor Leah Askey suggested that Faria might have killed his wife while naked and then showered—although there was no evidence to support the claim. Police found no blood in any drain and there was no evidence that the shower had been used after the stabbing.

On November 21, 2013, the jury convicted Faria of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In February 2014, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a lengthy article on the case, the result of a joint investigation with KTVI Fox 2 television. The article disclosed that Huff had been sued by the victim’s daughters, and in that in a deposition in that lawsuit she had revealed that she had not actually put $100,000 of the life insurance proceeds into a trust but instead had kept all of the money herself.

The Post-Dispatch article also disclosed that the reporters received an anonymous letter saying that the prosecutor had a sexual relationship with one of the police officers in the case.

The article noted that Hupp made contradictory statements to police. She initially told investigators that she did not enter the Faria house on the night of the murder, then later said she did enter the house but only as far as the living room, and later yet said that she went into the victim’s bedroom. The newspaper reported that Hupp initially said that she called her husband when she arrived at the Faria home, and again when she left. But she later amended that and said that the second call was to tell Betsy Faria she had arrived home in O’Fallon, Mo. None of the calls were picked up.

Moreover, the reporters found the 911 operator who actually took the call from Faria on the day he found his wife’s body. The operator, Tammy Vaughn, told the reporters that she had no doubt that Faria was genuinely distraught. Vaughn said that 911 operators are trained to deal with hysterical callers by attempting to redirect them. “It’s a technique that communicators use to try to redirect, calm them down. Ask him the question and then whenever they have to focus back on the victim…then they do what’s called a ‘re-freak.’”

Vaughn said, “You can't fake that. You can't fake that emotion. In my personal opinion, you can’t.”

The defense filed a motion for a new trial, based on allegations that the prosecutor, Askey, was having an inappropriate relationship with a police officer in the case, and on the deposition of Hupp in the lawsuit filed by Faria’s daughters, indicating that Hupp had failed to turn over the insurance money she was supposed to put in trust for those daughters.

At a hearing on the motion, the investigator denied he was having an affair with the prosecutor. In June 2015, Circuit Court Judge Steven Ohmer granted the motion for a new trial based on the evidence relating to Hupp. Asked whether he found any evidence supporting the allegation that prosecutor Askey and the police officer were involved in a relationship, Judge Ohmer said, “I did not.”

Faria was released on bond on June 15, 2015 and went to trial a second time in November 2015, electing to have his case decided by a judge instead of a jury.

At Faria’s first trial, a detective testified that the home appeared to have been cleaned of blood, but said that there were no photographs of the crime scene because the police camera had malfunctioned.

Before the retrial, however, the defense discovered more than 100 photographs of the crime scene that had been taken by police but had not been disclosed to the defense. Those photographs showed no evidence that the home had been cleaned of blood.

Hupp, who had denied any involvement in the murder in out-of-court statements, was not called as a witness by the prosecution. The defense, however, elicited testimony from detectives that Hupp had made numerous contradictory statements about her activity on the day of the murder. In addition, the detectives testified, three years after the murder Hupp had disclosed for the first time that she had had a sexual relationship with the victim and that Russell Faria learned of it before the murder and was angry about it.

On November 6, 2015, Judge Ohmer acquitted Faria on both charges. In July 2016, Faria filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Lincoln County.

In August 2016, Hupp was charged with murdering a 33-year-old mentally-disabled man she claimed broke into her home and tried to attack her. Authorities said they believed Hupp lured the man to her home, killed him and planted money and a note on him in an attempt to make it appear that the man had been hired by Faria to kill her.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/16/2015
Last Updated: 8/24/2016
State:Missouri
County:Lincoln
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2011
Convicted:2013
Exonerated:2015
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:41
Contributing Factors:Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No