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'I was appalled by everything she had to say': Russ Faria reacts to prosecutor's statements about him

Former Lincoln County Prosecutor Leah Chaney told the I-Team she has never seen any evidence showing anyone else could have killed Betsy Faria

CLAYTON, Mo. — Russ Faria thought his name had been cleared from the 2011 murder of his wife Betsy Faria until he heard former Lincoln County Prosecutor Leah Chaney tell the I-Team her reasons for still believing he is guilty.

“My initial reaction was anger,” Faria said. “I was appalled at everything she had to say.”

Faria’s conviction was overturned, and Pam Hupp now stands charged with the killing.

The case has become the topic of national news coverage, a Dateline special and an NBC miniseries in the making.

In an exclusive interview with the I-Team, Chaney stood by her reasons for charging Faria with the murder and insisted her conduct in doing so was above board, despite accusations of telling witnesses to lie and withholding evidence.

RELATED: Exclusive | 'Tired of being silent': Former Lincoln County prosecutor opens up about Pam Hupp case

Faria and his attorney, Joel Schwartz, sat down with the I-Team to challenge Chaney’s assertions.

“I’ve got to say that I never thought that anybody could lie as much as Pam,” Faria said. “However, I think (Chaney) proved me wrong on that one because she spent her entire interview telling nothing but lies about me and everybody else and everything to do with this case.”

Suspicion early on

Chaney said she found Faria’s call to 911 reporting his wife’s death suspicious. He told dispatchers she had committed suicide, even though she had been stabbed 55 times.

“This woman was found and she had a knife protruding from her neck and both of her hands were almost severed off,” Chaney said. “So clearly, from anyone’s perspective, it did not look like a suicide.”

But, from Russ Faria’s perspective, it did, Schwartz said.

“All he was able to see at the time was a slit wrist and it was a deep slit and a knife in her neck,” Schwartz said.

He also said Betsy Faria was also wearing dark clothing, which hid most of the other wounds, and she had a history of threatening suicide.

At the time, she was also terminally ill with cancer.

Chaney also noted how some of Betsy Faria’s stab wounds were so severe and required so much force, she didn’t believe Hupp, or any woman, would be capable of that type of force.

“I recall she walked with a cane,” Chaney told the I-Team. “She did not have a gait like what you see on TV now.

“The way she presented herself was very, very different from the person you see now.”

Schwartz said most of the wounds happened postmortem, so a woman could have inflicted them, and Hupp’s medical status seemed to change at every court hearing.

“It went from her back to her hips to drop foot to brain injury,” he said. “And every time it was different, however, she would not authorize the release of her medical records.

“All we knew was her medical history changed every time we saw her, so to say that the Pam Hupp from today is different from the Pam Hupp we knew back in 2011 is completely untrue.”

Russ Faria said it was difficult to hear Chaney’s reasons for prosecuting him.

“I know what really happened and I was there and she's just trying to turn things around to make herself look good once again,” he said.

Misconduct or above board?

Chaney defended her reputation, saying this is the only case in which her reputation has been called into question. Supporters including former U.S. Attorney Tom Dittmeier and former Lincoln County Sheriff John Cottle also said they believe she handled the prosecution ethically and legally.

Chaney also said allegations that she told witnesses to lie on the stand during the trial and that she withheld evidence have already been proven to be false.

She said she asked Lincoln County commissioners to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate her handling of the case which didn’t find any wrongdoing.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office helped her prosecute Russ Faria during the first trial.

And she was also dismissed from Faria’s federal civil lawsuit after more than two years.

“I was dismissed out of it and found not to have committed the things that they allege that I committed,” Chaney told the I-Team.  

Russ Faria said the court dismissed Chaney from his lawsuit for a different reason.

“She got excused because of a little term called prosecutorial immunity, which shouldn’t even exist,” he said. “It doesn't matter if you're a prosecutor, if you're a police officer, if you're the President of the United States.

“You should be able to be punished for whatever you did if you did something wrong.”

A judge can deny prosecutorial immunity if there is proof that an official’s conduct was wrong and intentional. It’s a threshold that’s hard, but not impossible, to overcome.

As for the assistance the Missouri Attorney General’s Office gave her, Schwartz said: “I was dealing with Leah and Leah was the lead counsel on this thing. So I can't respond to you as to what the attorney general's office did or didn't do, all I can tell you is this prosecution was wrong from the start.”

Schwartz said he also believed investigators had tunnel vision when it came to his client, but he doesn’t understand why.

“It doesn't make sense, it's idiotic, it's stupid, and it cost Russ Faria three-and-a-half years of his life and Lincoln County insurers over $2 million,” he said. “Anything that didn't fit with her and the officer’s theory of this case was simply ignored, and I think it was ignored from day one.”

That’s why he believes he was able to win Faria a new trial based on what’s known as a Mooney motion, a legal precedent that’s only been used three times in the state’s history.

“It takes years and years and years to get a case overturned, but that didn't happen,” Schwartz said. “To hear this conviction was so egregious and the rulings by the previous court were so egregious that the Court of Appeals said this thing needs to go back, and it needs to go back now.”

Faria was then acquitted during a bench trial, meaning a judge presided over the case rather than a jury.

Going into that trial, Chaney told the I-Team she felt more confident than the first trial because she discovered several pieces of evidence that were never tested – including Betsy Faria’s computers on which a document was stored expressing she feared her husband would hurt her. Schwartz argued his technology experts determined it was highly unlikely Betsy Faria wrote the letter, and it appeared to have been placed there from an external source.

“It is a smoking gun,” Schwartz said of the letter. “It's just not a smoking gun of Russ Faria.”

Surprises

Schwartz said he learned some new details about the investigation from Chaney's interview, including how she asked for a special prosecutor to investigate her conduct.

Chaney said she was surprised to learn no one from the Major Case Squad logged the contents of Betsy Faria’s purse and water droplets found in Faria’s shower were never documented in any reports.

She said she also consulted with two experts, one who analyzes 911 audio and another who is an FBI profiler, and both said Russ Faria was her suspect.

“This is the first I’m hearing of it,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz filed a bar complaint against Chaney five years ago. In February, the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel dismissed it.

“They were accurate and they were true, but the bar found that they were not enough to discipline her,” Schwartz said. “I say sometimes the remedy is simply left up to the voters.

“And the voters certainly spoke their mind.”

Chaney lost her seat to Mike Wood in 2018.

He announced he was charging Hupp with Betsy Faria's murder on July 12 and that he was launching an investigation into whether any of the misconduct on the part of police and prosecutors on the case could result in criminal charges.

Chaney told the I-Team she’s cooperating with that investigation and spoke with Wood’s investigators.

“They wanted to extend an olive branch to me, that they knew that I had not done anything wrong,” she said. “But they also know that I know the case and wanted to ask me if I would be willing to help them get to the truth.

“And I accepted it. I said, absolutely, if there's something that I have missed or that I wasn't provided I want to know that."

Russ Faria has his doubts about whether Chaney is participating in Woods' investigation.

“I have no idea whether she is or not,” he said. “I know that about two weeks ago I did speak with the lead investigator and he assured me and promised me that he is going to leave no stone unturned and is going to get to the bottom of this and is looking forward to presenting his findings, hopefully by December.”

Faria acknowledged the investigations into Chaney’s conduct have so far resulted in no discipline against her.

He said the only investigation that matters to him is the one Wood is conducting.

“I'd like to see her serve a prison term. And from what the investigators have told me, there's a very good chance that that might happen.”

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