Police offer ‘theory’ to witness, who then changes her story

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(KTVI) - Audio interviews raise questions about how investigators handled the state's star witness in the Faria murder retrial.  Hours of interviews, released after the November acquittal, reveal officers suggested a new theory to her, more than three years after Betsy Faria's murder.

On the stand during trial, a Lincoln County Detective Sergeant acknowledged police cannot share theories with witnesses because it could taint the investigation.  Now read what he and the Sheriff`s police commander shared with Pam Hupp, who dropped off Betsy the night of the murder, December 27th, 2011.

In a June 17, 2015 police interview Detective Sergeant Patrick Harney told Hupp, 'What I'm going to offer you, like Detective Merkel and I have said, we have, we were the first detectives at the house. And we have spoken in theory before about what we believe may have happened.'

They were preparing for the retrial of Russ Faria.  Harney said, '...Russ knew that you were there, either by a phone call or just the sheer presence of your car.'

Hupp always said she never recognized anyone near the Faria home that night in 2011.  After detectives shared their theory, they asked again.

Harney said, 'So now I'm going to hand that to you and ask is, is any part of that correct? And it is in fact, did you see Russ that night?'

Hupp: 'No.'

She said 'No,' but later returned to investigators October 6th to say she thought about what they said.  This time she told investigators she remembered something from more than three years earlier.  She described driving Betsy home and looking down a side street that ran behind the Faria house.  Read what she said she saw in a car next to the Faria`s back yard.

Hupp said, 'Two men sitting in there. Two. Two men.'

Det. Sgt. Harney followed up, 'And you think you recognized one of those men?

Hupp: 'I do, yes.'

Harney: 'And who do you think you believe, who do you believe that person was?'

Hupp: 'I believe it was Russ.'

She said he was with someone who appeared to be hiding.  Hupp said, 'I saw someone duck, yeah.'

Defense attorney Joel Schwartz said that was Hupp`s 13th interview.

Schwartz told me, 'It frightened me as to what goes on behind the scenes that`s not generally recorded.  When a law enforcement officer is suggesting stories to a witness and then a witness adopts those stories, innocent people get convicted.'

Cell phone records showed Russ`s phone was in O`Fallon, MO, matching the stories of four friends who said they were all watching movies from 6-9 pm the night of the murder.  Pam Hupp first told police she was 'home' when she called Betsy at about 7:30 pm.

Schwartz added, 'The story that Pam Hupp stated, consistently changed.  It changed so much that had this not been so serious, it would be virtually a Saturday Night Live skit.'

Hupp`s latest story about that call, that she told in June, was that at about 7:30 she stopped to call Betsy about two miles from the home.

Hupp said Betsy, '...was very angry because she wanted me to stay and I left anyway. And I got part way down there where it starts to fork off and I stopped and I, I called her because I, I was, she was pissed.  Ha ha, I didn't want her to be mad.

Captain Mike Merkel said, 'Right.'

Hupp said she waited, '...maybe ten, fifteen minutes.'

Capt. Merkel: 'Okay.'

Hupp: 'And then I left and still had a, you know, get the hell out of Troy.'

Attorney Schwartz said, 'They certainly weren`t interrogators. They were trying to bolster a case that wasn`t there, enablers if you will, trying to make a case, trying to make something out of nothing and they failed.'

Neither the Lincoln County Sheriff`s Office nor the Prosecuting Attorney`s office would comment.  You can read a companion piece to this story in our partnership with the St. Louis Post Dispatch at stltoday.com.

Follow Fox 2`s Chris Hayes on Twitter @ChrisHayesTV