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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – I’ve had several conversations with Joel Schwartz I will never forget.  One was prior to Russ Faria’s 2013 trial when he told me “I think you’re going to want to attend this one.”  Neither of us knew at the time how important that would be.

Joel told me this when I caught him leaving the Lincoln County Courthouse one day as I was walking in to review court records.  He couldn’t say much, other that ‘trust me’ because there wasn’t much public record yet on the case (this meeting would’ve been about a year after Betsy Faria’s murder and about a year before Russ Faria’s first trial).

Schwartz had previously proved to me that I should listen to his advice to on whether or not to attend a trial.   Two cases come to mind – one in which he represented a guilty man and another in which he represented an innocent woman. 

Less than a year before Betsy Faria’s murder, Schwartz represented the mastermind behind a $6.6 million ATM company heist – John Wesley Jones.  It soon became apparent that this wasn’t about Jones getting off. He never claimed innocence.  Jones even escaped custody for a couple days (from a Lincoln County Jail interestingly enough).  Jones eventually pleaded guilty to four felonies and at his plea hearing Jones had Schwartz read a statement to reporters saying he wasn’t sorry.

For Jones, it may have just been about getting the best representation for an inevitable prison sentence. For another woman, Leslie Pollard, it was about proving her innocence.  Pollard’s case was one of my first encounters with Joel.  She was an in-home daycare provider who couldn’t explain why an 11-month-old died after hitting his head in her home.  Police and prosecutors thought she shook the baby to death.  Schwartz, however, obtained evidence the baby had a rare disorder.  Dr. James Shoemaker of St. Louis University detected the disorder – “glutaric acidemia” and he told me for a Fox Files report I put together on the case — “(glutaric acidemia) may occur in one out of 10,000 to 20,000 live births, so a lot of physicians will go their entire careers without ever having seen a case.”  He said one way to describe the condition was to explain how the person has a larger than typical skull.  That allows the brain to rattle around dangerously, even during normal exercise.

Josh Duhmael plays Joel Schwartz
Josh Duhamel plays Joel Schwartz in “The Thing About Pam”

The St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office checked with its own expert at the time who agreed with Dr. Shoemaker’s findings.  The office then dropped all charges against Pollard.

Schwartz could have taken complete credit for the success.  He could’ve said that he worked exhaustively to find Dr. Shoemaker.  Instead, Schwartz acknowledged to me he caught a break by getting a call from a family who’d heard about his case – John and Cyndi Brockmeier.  He told me on camera, “I’d like to think that I would have found out what was wrong with this child, but it’s impossible to say.” 

He said it was important to give proper credit because the Brockmeiers had their own incredible story he thought could help others.  Fifteen years earlier, the State took the Brockmeier’s child, Trey, after an accident three different pediatricians called child abuse and “shaken infant syndrome.” Trey survived a hemorrhage and returned to his parents only after John and Cyndi passed lie detector tests.  But suspicions remained for more than a decade.  Trey was a teenager when his pediatrician consulted Dr. Shoemaker about a urine test.  Shoemaker said Trey had “glutaric acidemia.”

What concerned the Brockmeier’s more than the cloud they’d lived under for 15 years was the fact their younger daughter Katie also tested positive.  She’s a teen gymnast who was unknowingly risking her life with every move.  Both Trey and Katie could continue everyday activities, but had to follow a strict diet including extra hydration. 

I’ll never forget sitting down with the Brockmeier children and looking into their eyes as we discussed the possibility of them being taken from their parents years earlier.  In my Fox Files report at the time, their story overshadowed the part about Schwartz freeing his client from charges.  Joel must have known it would.  He wasn’t afraid of the camera, but he also wasn’t afraid to get out of the way. 

That seemed unusual for a man with performance aspirations.  He not only has the Hollywood attorney look, but he also once told me acting was his first dream.  His timing was bad because he landed in Southern California in the midst of the 1988 writer’s strike.  “There weren’t any decent projects,” he told me.  So he decided to visit St. Louis and hang out with a friend.  He’d had his law degree, but always gravitated toward performance when attending the University of Texas.  Back then Schwartz said he produced pin up calendars titled “The Men of Texas.” He also posed in the three calendars he put together.  “They paid for a full year of school,” Schwartz once told me. 

Schwartz’s modeling may have helped him get his first attorney job.  That friend he visited in St. Louis was preparing to fight a case in trial as a Public Defender.  The friend told him a job opened up at the office so Schwartz applied for it.  A short time later Schwartz said he found himself in a room with 19 people sitting around him in a circle.  “They were all asking about the calendars,” he told me.  “They said, can you start tomorrow?  That was 1989 and now here I am.”

I didn’t know about his performance history while attending the Faria trial, but the ATM Solutions case and the shaken baby case led me to believe he was an attorney to watch.  Yet he was the last attorney I expected to see while I was following up on the Betsy Faria murder, shortly after it happened in December 2011.  The case didn’t seem high profile at the time and it was in Lincoln County, which is about 50 miles away from his Clayton, MO office.  That day when I saw him walking out of the courthouse, I almost didn’t say anything. I thought it couldn’t be Schwartz.  I remember asking, “Do you have a client here?”  I could only get a smile out of him, an acknowledgment it was about Faria, and that phrase I’ll never forget – “I think you’re going to want to attend this one.”

The following script is from our original report on November 17, 2014

Is the wrong man behind bars for murder?  The attorney for Russ Faria says he`s about to file an appeal.

Joel Schwartz said, “Every day that this man stays in jail is a travesty of justice. He’s an innocent man confined in prison right now.”

Schwartz is the defense attorney for Russ Faria.  A Lincoln County jury sentenced Faria to life in prison for the stabbing death of his wife Betsy.  Schwartz said, “The jury didn’t get the opportunity to view what the public has now seen and I can’t imagine given the fact that this man had four alibi witnesses in addition to three alibi video tapes and his cell phone all confirmed he was 45 minutes away at the time of death, that anyone could possibly imagine he did it.”

Now we’re hearing more about the changing stories from Betsy Faria`s friend Pam Hupp, the designated beneficiary of Betsy`s $150,000 life insurance policy.  That policy was signed over to Hupp, days before the murder.   Detectives asked Hupp about it.  She explained to police that Betsy told her, “I want my kids to have it.”

Betsy’s daughters Leah and Maria never got the money.  So they’re suing Hupp for the insurance proceeds.  In a recent civil deposition, Hupp now says, “It was my money.”

Hupp drove Betsy Faria home the night she was killed.  Lincoln County Judge Chris Kunza Mennemeyer barred a jury from hearing about the money, ruling that it was not relevant.  Before the trial, police told Hupp why the money was a problem for their case against Russ.

In another recorded interview in July 2012, Lincoln County Detective Ryan McCarrick told Hupp, “(You) now have this money and have not turned any of it over to the family. That`s a huge problem. Betsy told you to hold on to this money to make sure the kids are taken care of yet they haven`t seen a dime of that money.  You still have it.’

Just before trial, Hupp said she put 2/3rds of the money into a trust for the girls, after pressure from prosecutors and the Missouri Attorney General`s office.

Attorney Joel Schwartz added, “The pressure was to make the case look better against Russ, frankly because there was no evidence against him.”

Hupp told police and testified at the Faria murder trial to Assistant Attorney General Richard Hicks’ question, “(Betsy’s) purpose was to try to assure that (the money) got to the girls?”  Hupp testified, “That’s correct.”

The testimony was taken during trial, but in a secret hearing in which the jury was removed.   Hupp described putting $100,000 in a trust for the daughters and the remaining $50,000 Hupp testified “…my other girlfriend died of breast cancer… and she has a 12-year-old daughter that I’m trying to help.”

The Assistant A.G. asked, “Are you using that money for that?”

Hupp testified, “Yes.”

Now Hupp’s story has changed.  In a civil deposition July of 2014, an attorney asked, “Did you ever tell anyone you gave $150,000 to a family?”

Hupp said, “No.”

The attorney followed up, “You never told anyone that?”

Hupp answered, “I told them I was contemplating it.”

The inconsistencies do not surprise attorney Schwartz, who says he’s hoping a new jury will finally hear it.  Schwartz said, “The appeal is virtually done and we should be filing it in the next couple weeks.”

He says he does not believe the prosecutor will look into Hupp’s changing story.   He said, “It’s clearly out there and if the prosecutor hasn’t been following this she’s covering her ears and closing her eyes.  It’s there and if she chooses to do so she can.  And frankly she should.”

Lincoln County Prosecutor Leah Askey e-mailed a short response, which states in full, “According to RSMO 575.040, I haven’t seen any evidence of perjury as it pertains to my case. Please let me know if you have specific examples that I might have missed.”