LINCOLN COUNTY, Mo. – Russ Faria spent three and a half years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
“This isn’t over yet,” he said. “It’s been a long time. It’s been 11 years now.”
On Dec. 27, 2011, Russ arrived home to find his wife, Betsy, stabbed to death on their living room floor.
Pam Hupp was eventually charged with Betsy’s murder, but only after a new prosecutor and new sheriff took over in Lincoln County. Both also swore to hold previous law enforcement accountable for mistakes in the murder investigation.
A decade ago, investigators focused solely on Russ as a possible suspect.
“They knew I was innocent—they knew—because they saw the evidence,” Faria said.
Detective Mike Merkel, who no longer works for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, was one of the first to interview Russ after the murder.
“(Merkel) was lying to me about being my pastor’s friend and saying he was trying to find out who did this, when all along he was trying to put a frame around me,” Faria said.
Only FOX 2 was in the courtroom for the now infamous moment in 2013 when Det. Merkel claimed a crime scene camera was broken and pictures did not develop.
Faria’s attorney, Joel Schwartz, ended up obtaining those mysterious photos.
“The detective who testified to this committed perjury and is, in fact, a liar, because they all did develop, and none of them showed what he testified to,” Schwartz said in April 2022.
Current Lincoln County sheriff’s investigator Randy Lambert has been looking into the past reported corruption that led to Russ’s wrongful conviction.
In the process, court records say Merkel threatened Lambert with the help of his wife, Becky, who also used to work for the sheriff’s office, and Mike’s brother, Kevin, who works for the DEA.
A probable cause statement reads, “Cellular records plainly show Kevin, Mike, and Becky Merkel were acting in concert and collusion to photograph, video record, and threaten the (investigating officer)…”
“They’re strong-arming somebody because they’re scared that the investigation is going to uncover all of their dirty deeds,” Faria said.
New Lincoln County Prosecutor Mike Wood, whose office has charged all three Merkels with felony stalking and harassment, agreed with Russ’ assessment.
“From a legal standpoint, we call it ‘consciousness of guilt,’ and if you’re attempting to interfere with the investigation where you had the opportunity to cooperate or not cooperate, but you’re attempting to intimidate, stalk, and harass investigators who are just trying to find answers, certainly causes you to believe there’s something there,” Wood said.
Russ said he’s thankful law enforcement is looking at itself.
“Not all cops are bad,” he said. “I ran into a whole group of bad ones, but there’s good ones out there that want to do the right thing and are embarrassed by the bad ones, and this is a good testament to that.”
None of the Merkels responded to my request for comment.
Since our last report, Mike Merkel was arrested and booked on a fugitive warrant on Dec. 27, 2022, and released on no bond. He has a court date this March. His wife is set for her first appearance next month, and his brother’s court date is not yet scheduled.