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Judge Erases Life Sentence For Russ Faria, Orders New Trial

Russ Faria
Russ Faria

A judge has ordered a new trial for Russell Faria, wiping out his life sentence, bringing hope to Faria and his supporters that freedom may soon be on the horizon. The order was given by St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer, who will also preside over Faria’s new trial, set for November 2.

Ohmer ruled that new evidence might have changed the outcome of Faria’s trail. Faria, 45, was convicted in Missouri in 2013 of murdering his terminally ill wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria, in 2011. Faria was sentenced to life without parole.

In 2014, Faria’s defense team filed a motion with the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals, requesting a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. Their request was granted in February of this year, leading to today’s hearing at the Lincoln County courthouse in Troy, Missouri.

Questions were raised by the defense of an alleged affair between lead prosecutor Leah Askey, and one of the lead detectives on the case named Michael Lang. Michael Corbin, one of four alibi witnesses, received information from an anonymous source claiming to have disparaging information about Prosecutor Askey. The source provided alleged emails from Detective Michael Lang to Prosecutor Leah Askey, discussing an affair between the two.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that Lang testified today, claiming there was no affair. But Ohmer said he focused his ruling on the relevance of information about Pamela Hupp, a friend of victim Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria.

The information regarding Hupp was the primary element of Faria’s request for a new trial. Hupp claims to have been a longtime friend of the victim, Betsy Faria. According to Hupp, the Farias had a rocky relationship. Hupp claims that Betsy confided with her that her husband had been abusive. None of Hupp’s claims have been supported by anyone else in Betsy Faria’s life. Hupp became the beneficiary of Betsy Faria’s life insurance policy just four days before her murder. At the time, Russ Faria was completely unaware of this change.

Hupp was never considered a suspect by police. In fact she was viewed as a credible witness. Hupp testified for the prosecution at Faria’s trial. This is when the defense learned that Hupp had become the beneficiary of the life insurance policy, and sought to introduce evidence pointing to Hupp as a possible alternative suspect. The prosecution moved to exclude the evidence, arguing that there was no real connection between Hupp and Betsy Faria’s murder.

Faria’s defense believes that Hupp’s behavior strongly suggests that she should have been viewed as a suspect by police. Hupp befriended Betsy and became the beneficiary of her life insurance policy. Hupp insisted on driving Betsy home from her chemotherapy treatment on the day of her murder, and was the last person to see Betsy alive. The defense argues that this information is crucial to the case and should not have been suppressed.

Hupp would go on to collect the life insurance policy after Betsy’s death, and to this day she has not given any money to Betsy’s two daughters. The daughters filed a lawsuit in April of 2014 claiming Hupp defrauded them out of $150,000 in life insurance.

Faria’s conviction was extremely controversial, regardless of the newly discovered evidence, because he had what appeared to be a rock-solid alibi. Four witnesses testified that Faria was with them watching movies at the time of the murder. Gas station security cameras and a fast food receipt also confirm Faria’s whereabouts that evening.

The State will now need to decide whether to pursue a new conviction in what will certainly be an uphill battle. A new trial will most likely bring further embarrassment to Prosecutor Leah Askey, but more importantly, serious issues of misconduct may come to light. Most importantly, information about Pam Hupp will undoubtedly have a major impact on a jury.  A new trial may very well show that the prosecution’s star witness should have been their main suspect.

Judge Ohmer set bail for Faria at $500,000. There has been no public announcement as to whether Faria will post bail. When Faria’s attorney, Joel Schwartz, was asked by the St. Louis Dispatch about the prospect of a new trial, he responded with confidence, stating: “We look forward to our day in court, with all the evidence coming in, and we expect justice to prevail.”

The Russ Faria case is an Injustice Anywhere featured case.