LINCOLN COUNTY, Mo. – A judge made two decisions Wednesday involving former law enforcement officers accused of crimes connected to the Pam Hupp investigation.
They happened while FOX 2 was with the man who served years of wrongful imprisonment because of the case. Russ Faria follows every development.
Faria served more than three years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Instead of projecting anger over what happened to him, he’s turning it into action, as he refuses to miss the most minor of court developments.
“I was fortunate. I could still be in prison right now,” he said. “The average time for an appeal in the state of Missouri is 10-plus years.”
It will be 10 years this November when Faria was wrongfully convicted for the 2011 murder of his then wife, Betsy.
It was a murder in which Pam Hupp now stands charged. But that murder charge against Hupp came under a new regime in Lincoln County. The former prosecutor and sheriff’s office refused to consider Hupp as a suspect.
Instead, they used her as a star witness during two trials – in 2013, and again in 2015, when Faria was actually cleared.
Hupp was still not considered a suspect in Betsy Faria’s murder, even though she benefitted from Betsy’s life insurance policy. The tide finally changed more than one year later in 2016, when Hupp shot and killed Louis Gumpenberger, after luring him in a diabolical and premeditated plot.
It took newly-elected Sheriff Rick Harrell, who was motivated to serve here while watching FOX 2’s online news coverage from Afghanistan. Harrell told us in August of 2020, “It was an awakening moment.”
It also took new prosecutor Mike Wood, who charged Hupp with murder in 2021 and said he was also going after the investigating officers.
“This is one of the poorest examples of investigative work that I, as well as my team, have ever encountered,” Wood said in July 2021.
Wood’s police corruption investigation led to alleged bizarre behavior by former Lincoln County Captain Mike Merkel, his wife, who also worked for the sheriff’s office, and Mike’s brother, who was with the DEA during the time of the alleged crimes.
They were charged in December 2022 of stalking current Lincoln County Undersheriff Randy Lambert, trying to get him to back down from his police corruption investigation.
Faria commented, “…just basically showing knowledge of guilt. If you’re trying to interfere with that investigation, then there’s got to be a reason behind it.”
On Wednesday, a judge set a preliminary hearing for one of the Merkels next month. Two others are delayed as they seek new judges.
“Waiting, that’s all we can do right,” Faria said.
Faria said he’s happy to have been able to recently see the Merkels appear in previous court hearings.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s been a little bit satisfying to see them on the other side of the fence, when they were trying to put me away so many years ago,” he said.