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'It's puzzling': Pam Hupp waives preliminary hearing in murder trial

Hupp is facing the death penalty for the murder of Betsy Faria, so why would she pass up the chance to hear the state's evidence against her before trial?

LINCOLN COUNTY, Mo. — The Pam Hupp case has taken another unusual turn.

The 64-year-old has waived her right to a preliminary hearing – an unexpected move for someone who is facing the death penalty, according to criminal defense attorneys including Joel Schwartz.

Schwartz represented Russ Faria, who was convicted of killing his wife Betsy by a jury in Lincoln County and later acquitted during a re-trial before a judge. Hupp is now charged with Betsy Faria’s murder.

“I'm puzzled as to why Pam Hupp would waive her preliminary hearing,” Schwartz said. “I believe that her attorney is at least well versed in the law and understands what they are doing."

He said he couldn't think of a reason for this strategy.

“Your preliminary hearing is where you would want to see as much as you can, how the evidence comes in, how witnesses present themselves, what a prosecutor might be attempting to argue in front of a jury," Schwartz said. "It essentially gives you a bit of a preview into what the evidence may or may not be.”

Hupp’s public defender did not return phone calls from 5 On Your Side.

Lincoln County Prosecutor Mike Wood said he could not comment on the pending case.

His predecessor, Leah Chaney, said preliminary hearings also give prosecutors certain advantages.

"When I was prosecutor, I wanted preliminary hearings to see strength of my cases," she said. "You don’t want to get to trial and find out the witnesses have moved, you can’t find them, they're out-of-state or they’re just not going to present as credible witnesses. You’d like to know that before you get in front of a jury.  

"And the defendant needs to see the strength of a case so you can, as the attorney, explain to them all of the things you think would be a detriment to them if it were to proceed to trial."

Chaney and Schwartz have agreed on very few things, but when it comes to Hupp's decision to waive her hearing, they have similar questions.

Chaney said as a prosecutor she would sometimes require defendants to waive preliminary hearings to get a better recommendation on charges from her office.  

From the defense attorney's perspective, Schwartz also said he has recommended his clients waive preliminary hearings only in circumstances involving deals with prosecutors.

“But that’s not the case here, there is no deal I’m aware of,” Schwartz said.

Hupp’s preliminary hearing was scheduled to take place Oct. 27 in front of Judge David Ash. On Aug. 31, Hupp’s attorneys entered a waiver of her preliminary hearing.

The attorneys also entered a motion for a change of judge in the case.

Now, an arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 28 before Judge Milan Berry.

“I just look forward to seeing how this thing plays out,” Schwartz said. “I’ll be watching it, and it's not without its challenges in that the initial investigation was so poorly done regarding Pam Hupp that it's difficult to recreate what there might have been had the investigation been done appropriately right at the start of Betsy Faria’s death.”

Betsy Faria's murder

Here is a summary of the saga, which began Dec. 27, 2011 in Troy, Missouri, about 55 miles northwest of downtown St. Louis.

That night, Russ Faria came home to a gruesome scene. His wife, Betsy Faria, was dead. A knife was still protruding from her neck. She had been stabbed 55 times.

He called 911 and told dispatchers he believed his wife, who was terminally ill with cancer, had killed herself.

Then Lincoln County prosecutor then Leah Askey, now Leah Chaney, charged him with his wife’s murder.

RELATED: Byers' Beat: What an investigation into Faria case prosecutor did—and didn’t—find

She enlisted the Missouri Attorney General’s Office to assist with the prosecution as she was a newly elected prosecutor. The Major Case Squad – which is a conglomeration of homicide detectives from across the area – also assisted with the investigation as did the St. Charles County crime lab.

Schwartz represented Russ Faria at trial, telling jurors his client had four alibis to confirm he was elsewhere at the likely time of his wife’s murder. He offered proof of his client’s whereabouts with receipts showing his client had stopped at least two places that night while visiting friends.

Pam Hupp was friends with Betsy and was the last person to see her alive and became the sole beneficiary of Faria’s $150,000 life insurance policy just days before she was killed.

During Russ Faria's trial, the judge limited Schwartz’s questioning of Hupp, who testified that she put $100,000 of the $150,000 in a trust fund for Betsy Faria’s daughters, Mariah and Leah Day, and her mother.

They never got the money.

Faria was convicted of his wife’s murder in November 2013 and sentenced to life in prison. But Schwartz did not stop trying to prove his client's innocence.

Conviction overturned

Ultimately, Schwartz went before the Missouri Court of Appeals and got a new trial before a judge – not a jury.

To win that new trial, a judge determined that the evidence about Hupp was new to Faria, that the defense could not have discovered it before the first trial and that it could have swayed jurors.

The judge ruled in Faria’s favor, and his conviction was overturned. He was released after spending three years in prison.

Another deadly turn

The Pam Hupp story took another deadly turn months after Faria's release in August 2016.

Hupp lured a man named Louis Gumpenberger, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him with some developmental delays, to her home by posing as a producer for Dateline who needed someone to help her with a scene.

She then shot Gumpenberger to death and claimed Russ Faria sent Gumpenberger to kidnap her.

Credit: Family photo
Louis Gumpenberger

St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar charged her with the murder and announced he would seek the death penalty.

Police then reopened an investigation into the death of Hupp’s mother, Shirley Neumann. She died after falling off a balcony at a retirement home in 2013. Hupp was the last person to see her mother alive.

Police have not been able to determine whether Neumann was murdered.

In June 2019, Hupp was facing trial in Gumpenberger’s murder. Hupp entered an Alford plea, which means she admitted prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her of Gumpenberger’s murder, but she did not plead guilty. Lohmar then agreed to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for a life sentence.

In March 2020, Russ Faria settled a lawsuit he filed against the Lincoln County prosecutor and police for $2 million.

Pam Hupp charged

In July 2021, Lincoln County Prosecutor Mike Wood charged Hupp with Betsy Faria’s murder, accusing her of framing Russ Faria for the crime.

Charging documents state the day of her death, Betsy Faria had chemotherapy treatment. She was at her mother’s house playing board games with friends when Hupp showed up and insisted on driving Betsy home, court records recount.

Hupp drove Betsy home, making her the last person to see her alive.

Prosecutors said Hupp waited until her friend was weak and lethargic from a chemotherapy treatment before she began stabbing her repeatedly as she lay on a couch under a blanket. Then, she dipped the victim's socks in her own blood and spread it around the house to make it look like her husband killed her in a domestic assault, according to court documents charging Hupp with the 2011 murder.

In announcing the murder charge, the prosecutor announced he would investigate whether there was any prosecutorial misconduct on the part of his predecessor, Leah Chaney, or the police who investigated the original case.

In an exclusive interview with 5 On Your Side, Chaney maintained her conduct during the prosecution of Russ Faria was “above board” and denied any wrongdoing. She said she never considered Hupp as a suspect because she didn't believe Hupp was physically capable of inflicting the level of stab wounds Betsy Faria suffered. She said she won a conviction against Russ Faria because the evidence police gave her all pointed to him.

She has not been charged with any misconduct.

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