Murder victim’s insurance subject of St. Charles County court battle
February 16, 2016 by Robert Patrick
ST. CHARLES • The criminal investigation of who killed Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria is in effect over. Late last year, a judge found her husband not guilty. Lincoln County authorities who prosecuted Russell Faria say they believe that he did it, and have no reason to look at anyone else.
But one county south, the murder remains front and center in a continuing legal fight over a $150,000 life insurance policy that Betsy Faria left behind with vague instructions.
St. Charles County Circuit Judge Ted House is awaiting final written briefs before deciding on conflicting claims about the intended purpose of the money. Even the beneficiary, Pamela Hupp, has contradicted herself in explaining the instructions that accompanied a change of beneficiary to her, instead of Russell Faria, just days before her friend was slain.
Betsy Faria’s two adult daughters, Leah and Mariah Day, are suing Hupp, demanding money they say was intended for them.
The central issue appears to be whether the change-of-beneficiary document, the authenticity of which has never been challenged, is valid. If so, the money would stay with Hupp, the woman Russell Faria has blamed for his wife’s death. If not, there is a chance it may go to Russell Faria, the man the prosecutor blamed, according to Hupp’s attorney,Michael J. Kruse.
Hupp testified at the first of Russell Faria’s two murder trials, in 2013, that Betsy Faria had told her to use the insurance proceeds to benefit her daughters. Betsy Faria suffered from terminal cancer, and Hupp said her friend was concerned that neither her husband nor her daughters, from a prior relationship, would handle the money responsibly.
But later, Hupp insisted the money was all hers and also claimed to have had a secret romance with Betsy Faria.
Russell Faria’s attorneys have suggested that the shift of beneficiaries was reason enough for authorities to consider Hupp a suspect, too. The attorneys were forbidden by the first trial judge from arguing that to a jury, and Russell Faria was convicted.
An appellate court ruled that evidence against Hupp should have been allowed, triggering a second trial with the defense making pointed accusations against her. She did not testify that time. A different judge acquitted Russell Faria, then 45, and criticized the investigation.
Hupp has denied any connection to the murder and has never been charged with it. Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney Leah Askey has insisted that she prosecuted the right person, Russell Faria.
TRUST MADE AND REVOKED
Five days before the murder, Betsy Faria and Hupp were in a library in the Winghaven community, changing the beneficiary of the $150,000 policy. Russell Faria remained beneficiary on another policy.
Betsy Faria, 42, was found stabbed to death Dec. 27, 2011, in the home she shared with her husband near Troy, Mo. Police focused on her husband, whose slippers stained with her blood were found in a closet. He initially was convicted despite multiple alibi witnesses, corroborated by store videos, and having no blood on his clothes.
Police video showed a detective quizzing Hupp about the money and discussion that it would look better at the murder trial if she put it in a trust for the victim’s children.
Hupp testified at the murder trial that the money was for the daughters, but she would contradict that later.
Last month’s civil trial provided more extensive testimony from Hupp, and the most intensive cross-examination of her series of conflicting claims. She said her memory was unreliable because of a series of head injuries.
Hupp acknowledged that she had told police and others, including members of Betsy Faria’s family, that some or all of the money was supposed to go to the daughters. She also admitted setting up a trust with $100,000 before Russell Faria’s first criminal trial, and telling the jurors the rest was for a friend suffering from cancer.
After the trial, Hupp dissolved the trust. She also has said that the sick friend rejected the $50,000. At one point before the second trial, she showed a “sack” of cash to Askey to prove she still had it.
Faria was acquitted of the murder on Nov. 6. Hupp said that she used the money the same month to buy a house in an auction on the courthouse steps in Troy.
She and her husband, through a limited liability corporation, co-own the property with another LLC, Hupp said, but she didn’t know who owned the other company.
In civil trial testimony, Hupp said she had felt pressured by law enforcement to set up the trust, to try to deflect questions about any motive she might have for Betsy Faria’s murder.
She also said she revoked the trust because she didn’t like “the harassment” from Betsy Faria’s family — requests for money to pay for the funeral and other costs.
She admitted lying to anyone who “would bug me and bug me and bug me and bug me” about what she was going to do with the money, according to a video of the trial made by Fox2 News, which has partnered with the Post-Dispatch in a series of reports on the murder.
A DEFECTIVE MEMORY
Later called by her own attorneys to testify, Hupp elaborated on her memory and mental processing challenges. She said that as the result of three head injuries in three years, she cannot process the speech of someone mumbling, speaking in a monotone, talking too fast or yelling at her.
She said she didn’t perceive her own problem in recollecting. “I can’t tell I don’t have a memory. The memory that comes to my head at that moment for that question is the memory that I think that I remember,” she explained.
Hupp continued testifying about her recollection of events, however, saying that Betsy Faria didn’t want her husband to get the money because they were divorcing, and she didn’t want her daughters to get it because they were “irresponsible” and “disrespectful” to her.
Hupp said that she initially refused to be the beneficiary, but later agreed. She claimed Betsy Faria had told her that when the daughters got older, “… if you could, give them some money or help them out.”
“If you could?” her attorney emphasized.
“If I could,” she answered.
Although Hupp testified during a deposition that she would not give the daughters any money, in the civil trial she said that her stance had softened, and she still might.
Hupp has offered conflicting testimony about her relationship with Betsy Faria — never mentioning their alleged sexual relationship until shortly before the second murder trial. She claimed then that Russell Faria knew about it and warned her to stay away. At the same time, she also claimed — again for the first time — that she had spotted Russell Faria near his home the night his wife was stabbed more than 50 times.
In closing arguments, Christopher Roberts, one of the attorneys for the daughters, said the evidence was “overwhelming” that Betsy Faria had wanted the money to go to them, citing statements by both Hupp and Betsy Faria’s friends and relatives.
JUDGE WEIGHS IN
Roberts faced tough questioning by Judge House, who pointed out, as had Hupp’s attorneys, that Betsy Faria had worked in the insurance industry and would have known how to make sure her daughters got the money.
“Why didn’t she do it?” House asked.
He also pointed out that to give all the money to the daughters would be contrary to testimony that Betsy Faria had wanted the money handed over at major milestones in their lives.
At one point, he asked the daughters’ attorneys, “One more chance: Where’s the evidence that indicates that was the insured’s intent?”
The judge noted, “I can’t just pull something out of thin air. It’s got to be based on the evidence.”
He also said the case might not even be “ripe,” as Hupp still could give the daughters the money.
But he also asked, “Does this case just ultimately depend on credibility?”
Hupp’s own attorney, Kruse, said that she had none.
“And I’m not … to begin to try to tell this court or anyone that Pam Hupp is a reliable witness. But she doesn’t need to be.”
Kruse said that House “can’t substitute (his) own judgment for the contract.”
Unless there is a mutual mistake or ambiguity, you can’t use “parol evidence,” he said, referring to a rule against modifying a written contract with spoken words.
Betsy Faria’s daughters, he complained, want to ignore “basic contract law” when the change-of-beneficiary form is “the best evidence and the only evidence we really need.”
Re-writing the contract to give the money to the Days, he warned, would “do what Betsy could have done but did not do.”
Yvette Joy Liebesman, an associate professor at St. Louis University Law School, said in an interview about the case last week that the judge could set up a trust to do what “Betsy thought was being set up by giving money to her friend.”
But Kruse warned that businesses relied on written contracts to mean what they say. If courts generally allowed contracts to be modified by hearsay about what someone said, “The economy would collapse,” she said. “You couldn’t conduct business.”