The Max Lewis case: mass incarceration, mental health, and the justice system

Max Lewis

Competency to stand trial is a central consideration in the criminal justice system not only because it is a critical factor in providing for the fair trial of an accused individual but also because issues with the mental health and basic competency of defendants are remarkably common. As a result, American courts have established highly specific requirements and standards to be followed in addressing competency to stand trial. The following article addresses the ways in which the competency question was addressed during the trial of Max Lewis as well as during the subsequent appeals process.

The issues surrounding of Max Lewis’ competency to stand trial began before his arrest on October 25, 2003 and have been thoroughly documented. Nevertheless, most of the well-established facts here were never divulged or appropriately investigated during the initial prosecution of the case or during appeal. As will be described in detail here, these failures of the judicial process are the result of officer improprieties, prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective assistance by defense counsel.

At the time of his initial arrest the arresting officers were aware of Max’s mental health issues. However, the officers did not include any mention of mental health in their reports despite later testimony at subsequent hearings that demonstrate they were aware of these issues. What was attested to by the arresting officers amounted to a few sentences which did not indicate that the officers executed a warrant-less arrest and stated that Max was arrested without incident; a grossly inadequate description of the arrest events as they relate to Max’s mental health.

In contrast to the official description of the arrest, soon after his arrest Max’s mental health problems were quickly noted by the jail mental health supervisor, Betty Thunder, who was on contract from an outside agency. This observation occurred only hours after Max’s arrest where Betty was told by Max that he was suffering and that he was in his predicament as a result of what he had recently learned about his brother. Instead of getting Max help, Betty left the jail and did not inform any person of what she was told. Nevertheless, jail staff soon became aware of Max’s condition as well.

During Max’s first month in the Forest County Jail, the jail nurse, Leslie Hrouda, tried to assist in getting Max treatment at an inpatient facility. Unfortunately for Max, Betty Thunder would not allow the jail medical staff to work with Max as Mr. Lewis had previously worked at the clinic where Ms. Thunder was his supervisor. Instead, after speaking with the jail administrator, George Stamper, it was decided to wait for a court appointed placement. How Mr. Stamper became aware of the court’s placement is not known, but it is assumed that District Attorney Leon Stenz spoke with the jail as he was the only one at that time with knowledge of Max’s upcoming placement.

As a result of Max’s delusions, his attorney raised the issue of competency to stand trial on November 17, 2003 and the District Attorney conceded that there was reason to doubt Max’s competency on December 1, 2003. On December 5, 2003, the court ordered that Max undergo a clinical evaluation to be conducted at the Winnebago mental health facility on an inpatient basis. The District Attorney was to prepare the order and make arrangements. However, on December 15, 2003, the court was informed that Max had not been transferred to a facility and neither had an order been prepared. Max’s attorney submitted an order that specifically stated Max was to be transferred to an inpatient facility by court order.

As a result, a status hearing was held on December 29, 2003 where the District Attorney told the court he was confused on the order which is why it had not been carried out. However, what the District Attorney did not divulge to the court was that he left on vacation which was the reason he failed in his duties. Despite this, the court once again ordered an inpatient placement for Max.

In Wisconsin, there are time lines that must be adhered to. This insures due process and is spelled out in Wis. Stat. § 971.14. There are two types of evaluations that can occur which include both an inpatient and an outpatient examination. People don’t normally fall through the cracks in these proceedings, but Wisconsin had one other case like Max’s in a case called Hager v. Marten. In that case, a higher court did not grant a habeas petition because the petitioner did not have transcripts or an order that specifically said that an inpatient placement was to occur. However, Max had received both of these key requirements.

In Max’s situation, there was a time limit of 15 days for the court order to be followed. This date was not met by DA Leon Stenz and as a result, Mr. Stenz had a cover up examination done at the jail. The exam, performed by a jail reporter and contrary to accepted standards for clinical evaluation of competency to stand trial, the examination did not include any medical tests or treatment and instead just asked a few questions that Max could not really answer. For unknown reasons, the jail reporter stated that Max was psychologically competent. Inspection of this report shows that its finding was severely deficient and lacked both appropriate medical expertise and competent medical practice, a clear violation of established standards of evidence for competency. However, a report has to be filed and a hearing has to be held on evidence received where a report is now considered to be scientific evidence of competence. In addition, what is mandated by both state and federal law is a hearing. Conspicuously, no such hearing was ever held in the Max Lewis case. In addition, as a result of the prosecutor’s misconduct, the required report was received but never filed. The failure of the DA to execute the original Judge’s court order was covered up and no one realized Max had never received any meaningful or scientifically valid clinical evaluation by a qualified medical practitioner and he never received effective medical treatment. This was in part because at this time a new judge and defense attorney entered the case and was exacerbated by the prosecutor actually lying to the court.

Shortly before Max’s trial, the issue of Max’s mental health came up again. In response to the issue, the prosecutor incorrectly told the judge that Max did in fact have a hearing. Max later appealed where this statements was used as the proof that a hearing had to have occurred despite no real proof. In fact, the required hearing never occurred. After a decade, the covered up report was found in Max’s file and it was shown that no one ever reviewed the transcripts because some of the competency transcripts had never been transcribed.

Yet, the issue is even more complicated because Max’s trial attorney knew that Max was having mental problems. Based on this realization his defense attorney had him evaluated shortly before trial. However, despite the finding by this examination that Max was extremely troubled, the exam did not directly address the original competency issue but was to introduce and support a not guilty by insanity defense. In fact the execution of this later examination was fundamentally flawed because Max did not fill out the test required for that examination. As a result of Max’s struggles, he could not complete the test. In another set of unfortunate events, Max’s evaluator could not complete the test with Max and instead left it at the jail. Since Max could not fill out the test, another inmate filled it out for him. This resulted in an incomplete and medically inadequate test. Yet, when Max’s attorney found out about it, his response was that he was done with Max because it seemed like Max wanted to sabotage his attorney.

None of this litany of incompetence by the judicial system erase the fact that Max needed medical help that he never got and that he never received a hearing to determine his competency. He has never had a chance to discuss what really occurred. Instead, Max continued to suffer from his same mental problems until 2005 where he was finally sent to the sister facility of the original court order. Max was not only found to be suffering from numerous serious mental health issues but he was also diagnosed with a form of epilepsy called complex partial seizures which resembles mental health issues. All of these issues played into a form of psychosis that was both medical and mental. Together this combination of health problems, and specifically, the inability to comprehend what was happening around him and fairly defend himself, had an effect on everything from arrest to appeal. The consequences of this conspicuous failure of the justice system to protect the innocent continues today.

In a recent contempt suit filed against Leon Stenz in November, 2017, the judge opined that Mr. Stenz did not have a duty to prepare an order and to make arrangements for Max, contrary to established law. This was despite a clear court order, colloquy, and a written order which were all supported by transcripts. The judge in that proceeding speculated that maybe DA Stenz misspoke although Mr. Stenz never testified to this fact as he was not required to be at the hearing. However, what was acknowledged by the court that day was that Max never received an inpatient examination and neither did Max receive a hearing on the issue. The judge suggested that maybe Max had an ineffective assistance of counsel and that maybe it was the jail who failed to make arrangements.  The second assertion was the result of the current District Attorney being allowed to testify to acts and practices that existed while Mr. Stenz was the prosecutor.  Facts that the current District Attorney would have no real knowledge of.  Despite this, Max’s rights were clearly violated once the court recognized that Max never received the mandated exam and hearing.

As explained in detail in by Rogers and Johansson-Love in their 2009 article in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, “Evaluating Competency to Stand Trial with Evidence-Based Practice”; “The standard for competency to stand trial was established by the Supreme Court’s decision in Dusky v. United States with a one-sentence formulation requiring that the defendant “has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding—and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.” Rogers and Shuman provide a legal summary of Dusky‘s three prongs: a rational ability to consult one’s own attorney, a factual understanding of the proceedings, and a rational understanding of the proceedings. Practitioners should be familiar with the Dusky standard and relevant appellate cases.” These requirements define what capabilities the defendant needs to have so that they have a fair ability to defend themselves in court. Furthermore, since an evaluation of a defendant’s competency becomes scientific evidence in court, such an evaluation must meet long standing. Clearly defined requirements and well established standards of evidence. Furthermore, fairness is fundamentally dependent on adherence to due process. In the Max Lewis case the evidence is overwhelming that the Justice System failed to follow these long standing requirements.

Jamie Snow’s federal appeal given new life

Jamie Snow

http://blog.freejamiesnow.com/jamie-snows-federal-appeal-given-new-life/

When a Northern Illinois District Court judge denied Snow’s federal habeas petition right before Christmas, she also summarily denied his request to appeal the decision to a higher court by issuing a denial of Snow’s Certificate of Appealability (COA) at the same time.

The Exoneration Project immediately appealed the denial of the COA, and was granted the right to appeal to the Seventh Circuit on February 18th. Read more >>

The 2017 Injustice Anywhere Newsletter is now online

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, courts in the United States overturned 165 wrongful convictions in 2016, which broke 2015’s record of 149 corrected wrongful convictions. It is promising to see that the numbers continue to be on the rise. If you look at data over the past 25 years, we are now seeing substantial progress.

Over the past quarter century, America has incarcerated more people than any civilized nation on earth. A disturbing number of those incarcerations have been wrongful convictions. Hundreds of exonerations can be credited to advanced DNA technology. But research on topics like, bite mark evidence, fire investigation technology, and shaken baby syndrome, have all played a significant role as well. The ability to distribute information via the internet has also proven to be an invaluable resource when fighting wrongful convictions.

Exoneration statistics show that we are on the right track, but we have a long way to go. We need to correct the mistakes we have made, all while working to reforming the system which allowed those mistakes to occur in the first place. Sadly, the wrongful conviction problem is far more pervasive than most people realize, and even with increased interest, most cases continue to lack the attention they warrant. Many innocent people remain in prison. They need others to be their voice. They need you. Please join us in the fight to free the innocent.

Click on the image below to download the newsletter.

 

Endorsed Case: Edward “Max” Lewis

Max Lewis

Edward “Max” Lewis was convicted in Wisconsin in 2004 for the repeated sexual assault of his step-daughter, over a span of two-years beginning in 2002. Lewis was sentenced to 22 years of incarceration. He was released from prison in 2015, and is currently on probation until 2025. Due to Wisconsin’s bifurcated sentencing system, Lewis is still considered incarcerated during his probation and can be returned to prison at any time. Also as a result of this system, Lewis is still able to appeal his sentence, even though he is not currently in prison.

Injustice Anywhere has reviewed Lewis’s case, and we are confident that he has been wrongfully convicted. We will be providing many more details of Max’s case in the coming weeks and months. We encourage you to check back often to learn more about the compelling case.

Resources

Case Overview

By Tom Zupancic and Karen Harden

The Max Lewis case is a complicated one that involves several people in Lewis’s own family. Evidence, and especially the lack there of, now shows that Lewis is the victim of a wrongful conviction. His story is not one that is easy to explain, and many of the details are disturbing because they deal with accusations of sexual assault of children and family members.

Lewis had a brutal childhood, living as a Native American orphan in a flawed Indian child welfare system that left him homeless by the age of 15. Throughout his childhood, he was subjected to neglect and abuse in the foster care system and was also the victim of a failed adoption which left him devastated. In spite of all this, Lewis was a music prodigy and became an extremely talented musician.

Lewis overcame adversity and got back on his feet in his later teen years by working a variety of jobs and pursuing his passion for music. At the age of 18, Lewis obtained placement of his five siblings who had also suffered through rough childhoods. Lewis married Tammy Lewis, who had three children of her own. They all came together to live in a house owned by Tammy. Max and Tammy would go on to add to the bunch with a child of their own. Lewis’s sense of obligation to care for his family was a fundamental component of his character.

Still, Lewis was in treatment for mental illness over a long period of time. He was able to keep things together as he tried to provide for his growing family, but in September of 2003, Lewis had a mental breakdown that would change his life forever.

Lewis fell into a state of psychosis while attempting to deal with disturbing activities that were taking place in his home. Lewis’s five-year-old step-daughter was showing signs of sexual behavior that seemed odd to Lewis and his wife. The child was rubbing up against a pillow in a sexual way. The child also showed the same behavior while on a nap mat at school.

One morning while watching Dora the Explorer, the five-year-old was influenced by the subject of the show, which was a discussion about playing games. While watching the show, the child began talking about a “game” that her uncle Orin (Lewis’s brother) and her brother (Lewis’s step-son) would play. The “game” involved sexual activity. Hearing this information sent Lewis over the edge. While in a poor mental state, Lewis told his wife that he was responsible for the “game” that was being played, referring to his sense of obligation to look after his family. He had, after all, brought Orin into the household. Lewis’s wife was concerned and consulted with her mother for advice. As a result, Lewis’s mother-in-law called the police, and Lewis was taken into custody.

Lewis’s mental illness is a core issue of his case. Lewis had been through a series of tragic events throughout his life, which all contributed to his breakdown. Besides the abuses he suffered in foster care, Lewis also had family events which would have a deep impact.

Lewis was witness to seeing his brother die after being hit by a car, and in a shocking family twist, he would later have to deal with his brother-in-law’s suicide, after his brother-in-law found out that his own father was having an affair with his wife. The brother-in-law’s death was not immediate, which gave him the opportunity to give Lewis a message from his deathbed. He told Lewis that he was holding him accountable for taking care of his sister (Lewis’s wife). This was a responsibility that Lewis took very seriously.

These traumatic events may have been handled better if Lewis had not been suffering with a mental illness. But due to his illness, Lewis became paranoid that he was going to die, just like his brother and brother-in-law had. He also feared that his dead brother-in-law was going to come back to kill him for failing to properly take care of his wife. In Lewis’s mind, he was responsible for everything that occurred in his home. The trauma that was occurring with his step-daughter proved to be more than Lewis could bear.

Upon his arrest, Lewis’s mental health issues were apparent, and a jail nurse tried to help get him treatment. But in a critical turn of events, Lewis was denied assistance. Initially, Lewis had an attorney who raised an issue of competency.  Lewis had a court order to be transferred to an inpatient facility. However, the district attorney failed to execute the court order and then later lied about why this occurred. As Lewis was later appointed a new attorney and judge, no one realized Lewis never received critical treatment. Despite this, competency was alluded to again shortly before trial, and the district attorney lied again, telling the court that Lewis had already received a competency hearing. This was a serious act of misconduct.

During the investigation, authorities became aware of the involvement of Lewis’s brother Orin and Lewis’s stepson. As a result, the district attorney offered Lewis’s brother immunity and a plea agreement in return for testifying that he was also a victim and that he observed other acts of abuse in the home. In exchange for his testimony, the prosecution offered a punishment of time served, meaning that Orin would be a free man if he was willing to testify against his brother for the prosecution.

The details surrounding the five-year-old victim’s statements after Lewis’s arrest are troubling to say the least. Investigators interviewed the child multiple times without the child ever making any incriminating statements against Lewis. The child was given to Lewis’s in-laws to care for her during this time. After the child spent time with the in-laws, her story abruptly changed to incriminate Lewis.

In yet another twist, at the time all of this was happening, Lewis’s in-laws were under investigation for sexually assaulting a grandchild. The grandchild just so happened to be the daughter of Lewis’s brother-in-law who committed suicide after finding his own father in bed with his wife. The father-in-law was not only allegedly having an affair with his daughter-in-law, he was also allegedly molesting his granddaughter.

Why was Lewis’s five-year-old step-daughter sent to stay with grandparents who were under investigation for sexual assault? And why did the child change her story to incriminate Lewis only after spending time with her grandparents? These questions remain unanswered. It is also unknown if the child’s changed story, which benefited the prosecution, had anything to do with the investigation of the grandparents being dropped.

Max is a talented musician

At trial, Lewis didn’t stand a chance. He had not received proper treatment for his mental illness and was in no condition to stand trial. Shockingly, due to the fact that Lewis’s mental health had not been evaluated before trial, his mental illness was not even mentioned to the jury.

Even more shocking was the fact that Lewis was put on the stand. Because of Lewis’s mental state, he was faced with questions he could not understand. Without having proper knowledge that Lewis was suffering with a mental illness, the jury had no explanation for Lewis’s behavior in court.

Additionally, the judge refused to allow the information regarding the brother’s inducements and his plea deal to be heard by the jury. An agreement that dismissed the brother’s greater charge (the charge Lewis was found guilty of). The judge also allowed State witnesses to introduce numerous hearsay issues based on the inducements provided by Lewis’s brother which were never testified to by the alleged victim.

The jury was unaware of the fact that Lewis was suffering from a mental illness. They had testimony from the victim pointing to Lewis, that was far from accurate. The child’s account of events was manipulated by investigators and others before the trial to induce her to implicate Lewis. Her statements were then distorted by the prosecution to mislead the jury. In addition, they heard damning testimony from Lewis’s brother, Orin. Based on the information they were provided; it was not shocking that it only took minutes of deliberation for the jury to find Lewis guilty.

Lewis was initially placed in prison. However, it became apparent that he could not live in a prison setting as he continued to suffer from mental illness.

It was at this time that he was sent to an inpatient hospital where he was diagnosed with a number of severe mental health issues and a previously undiagnosed form of epilepsy called complex partial seizers. These mental health issues would have been recognized before Lewis’s trial if the prosecution’s office had done its job properly.

Once Lewis regained partial functioning, he began to appeal his conviction. During Lewis’s appeal process, his brother Orin recanted his statements and admitted that he lied. He also stated that the prosecutor implied to him that he knew his testimony was false, but he allowed it to be used anyway. As a result of Orin’s recantation, the court ridiculously ordered the district attorney’s office to investigate itself. Of course, the district attorney’s office cleared itself and concluded that Orin’s recantation was false.

Even though Lewis’s brother recanted his testimony, Lewis has been unsuccessful in his appeals, despite the fact that there is currently no solid evidence to support his conviction. The appeals system in America is a complicated one, and it is incredibly difficult to overturn a wrongful conviction regardless of overwhelming proof of innocence.

Lewis does not have the means to hire an attorney who is capable of giving him his best chance of clearing his name. He also lacks the means to hire experts to present the actual facts of his case. That is one of the major shortcomings of our justice system. Without money, it is very difficult to properly defend yourself, no matter how ridiculous the charges might be.

Lewis is currently serving a ten-year probation in Wisconsin. He Is hopeful that an attorney will come forward to take his case pro bono. As of now, that is Lewis’s only hope of finding justice.

Supporters Asking For Funds To Support Melissa Calusinski’s Family As She Continues To Fight For Her Freedom

Paul and Cheryl Calusinski

A gofundme account has been set up to help Paul and Cheryl Calusinski, the parents of Melissa Calusinski. Paul and Cheryl have suffered financial hardship as they have fought to free their daughter from prison.

Melissa Calusinski was convicted of murder in 2011 and was sentenced to 31 years in prison in Illinois. Calusinski was accused of throwing a child to the floor, causing fatal injuries, while working as a teacher’s aide at a day care center.

Calusinski has long maintained her innocence, and evidence now shows that she was wrongfully convicted based on false medical testimony and a coerced confession. In 2013, Eupil Choi, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on the child, stated in a sworn affidavit that he had missed an old injury. Choi’s statement was a major breakthrough in the case, because it supported Calusinski’s defense team’s longstanding argument that the child’s death was the result of a pre-existing injury. But the real bombshell came last year, which blew the case wide open. Lake County’s coroner, Dr. Thomas Rudd, reclassified the child’s death from a homicide to undetermined, after a new set of X-rays was discovered by his office. These X-rays show no sign of fresh injuries on the child at the time of death.

Melissa Calusinski

Calusinski is currently being represented by Kathleen Zellner, a high profile defense attorney who is credited with overturning eighteen wrongful convictions to date. Calusinski’s supporters are hopeful that Zellner will soon be adding one more case to her long list of successful exonerations.

Zellner’s involvement has been a blessing for the Calusinski family. Unfortunately, even with the best representation, the wheels of justice turn very slowly. The vast majority of wrongful convictions which are overturned go through multiple appeals over the course of many years before being corrected.

Paul and Cheryl Calusinski will continue to fight for their daughter for as long as it takes. And they have a strong group of supporters who are determined to make sure that they never have to fight the battle alone.

Please visit the Official Justice for Melissa Calusinski Family Page on Facebook to learn more about the Melissa Calusinski case.

If you would like to make a donation to help the Calusinski family, you can do so here: https://www.gofundme.com/paulandcherylcalusinski

Jason Flom Interviews Amanda Knox

Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom is a podcast about tragedy, triumph, unequal justice and actual innocence.  Based on the files of the lawyers who freed them, Wrongful Conviction features interviews with men and women who have spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit – some of them had even been sentenced to death.  These are their stories.

GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/darryl-pinkins-roosevelt-glenn-convicted-in-1989-rape-guilty-until-proven-innocent/

HAMMOND, Ind. — For nearly two decades, Sally Glenn went to prison every other weekend to visit her son, Roosevelt.

“It would hurt me. And when we’d leave there I would cry,” she told “48 Hours” correspondent Maureen Maher.

Roosevelt Glenn’s daughter, Darniese, who was just 7 when her father went to prison, was often by her grandmother’s side on those visits.

“I was nervous for him due to the fact I knew he was a very innocent man behind bars with very bad criminals,” she said.”I had suicide all over me … for a while,” Roosevelt Glenn said in tears.

“And what stopped you?” Maher asked.

“I believe it was the power of God,” Glenn said. “I was a good man before I went to prison, but I wasn’t a man of faith.  Prison changed my way of thinking and it made me a man of faith.”

Darryl Pinkins was also in prison.

“How do you survive in that environment?” Maher asked Pinkins.

“You have to become … colder, as far as emotions,” he said, “because I don’t trust people like I used to.”

“I don’t know if they realize you’ve pretty much taken the most valuable thing people have… time,” Pinkins’ son, Dameon, said. “I feel like I’ve lost the most important time of my life, where — a son bonds with his father and becomes a man.” Read more >>

Incredibly, prosecutors are still defending bite mark evidence

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2017/01/30/incredibly-prosecutors-are-still-defending-bite-mark-evidence/?utm_term=.bb52cd7018fa

As of today, bite mark evidence has led to more than two dozen wrongful arrests or convictions. Two men sentenced to death on bite mark evidence were later exonerated by DNA testing. Multiple proficiency tests have shown that bite mark analysts can’t even agree on whether marks on human skin were made by human teeth or teeth at all, much less agreement on which set of teeth made them. There are two underlying assumptions that need to be true in order for bite mark evidence to be valid — that the marks we make when we bite are unique to us and that human skin is capable of recording those marks in a way that allows analysts to distinguish them. So far, there is no scientific research to support either assumption, and the research that has been done suggests both claims are false. Bite mark evidence has been strongly criticized by several scientific bodies, including the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and, most recently, by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The Texas Forensic Science Commission, a body convened specifically to review the validity of questionable fields of forensics, recommended a moratorium on the use of bite mark analysis in court. Read more >>

Judge rules against police immunity in Ryan Ferguson’s civil rights case

Ryan Ferguson

http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/local/judge-rules-against-police-immunity-in-ryan-ferguson-s-civil/article_72de379e-fc23-5d88-ada7-3639253e49f6.html

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that six Columbia police officers who worked on the case against Ryan Ferguson are not entitled to immunity from the remaining counts of Ferguson’s civil rights lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued the order about three months after the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had sent the case back, instructing her to clarify whether the officers should be entitled to qualified immunity. The order clears up the issue and allows the case to go to trial on several claims of constitutional violations, pending any further appeals at the Eighth Circuit level.

Qualified immunity protects government officials from legal liability unless their conduct clearly violates a person’s rights and an official acting reasonably would have known the conduct was unlawful. The doctrine is meant to shield officials from frivolous lawsuits.

Kathleen Zellner, Ferguson’s lawyer, did not respond to a message seeking comment. Brad Letterman, attorney for the officers, declined to comment. Read more >>

The unimaginable, infamous case of Pam Hupp

ILLUSTRATION BY RAÚL ALLÉN

https://www.stlmag.com/longform/pam-hupp/#.WIKFTGk3wdo.facebook

The 911 operator heard a woman refusing to get into a vehicle and begging for help. Gunshots—loud and staccato—cut through the confusion of noises. A smoke alarm shrilled.

When police arrived, a 33-year-old man lay dead inside an O’Fallon, Missouri, house. The caller said the man had climbed into her SUV, held a knife against her throat, and demanded that she take him to a bank to get “Russ’s money.” Terrified for her life, she said, she’d knocked the knife away, run inside through the garage door, dashed into the master bedroom, and grabbed a .38 Ruger revolver from her nightstand. He came after her like “a madman.”

The 911 caller—a 58-year-old woman named Pamela Hupp—was questioned and released.

Seven days later, she was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Before being booked, she asked to use the restroom and stabbed herself in the neck and wrists with a ballpoint pen.

St. Louisans squinted at their TV screens, trying to fathom this blond woman, her square jaw set hard, her face impassive. This was the same woman who’d testified three years earlier in a murder trial after her friend was stabbed 55 times. The friend’s husband was convicted and later acquitted. In the meantime, Hupp’s mother had died in a suspicious fall from a third-floor balcony.

The only possible motive connecting all three cases was money. Hupp, who’d held several jobs in the insurance industry, was the beneficiary of both her friend’s and mother’s policies. But would somebody really stab a sick friend and shove her own mother off a balcony to get cash she’d receive in a few years anyway, then shoot a perfect stranger just to twist the plot?

“Even Hollywood,” one St. Louisan tweeted, “doesn’t write scripts this convoluted.”


Pamela Neumann Hupp grew up in an orderly Catholic household in Dellwood, the third of four kids, their mother a schoolteacher, their father a union man who worked for decades at Union Electric. Pam rode bikes with her friends, went Christmas caroling, occasionally skipped Sunday school. At Riverview Gardens High School, she was a blond pompommer with a laugh that burst forth like a geyser, no stopping it.

Pam was always ready for fun, friends recall—no moodiness or drama, no talking behind people’s backs. Her grades could’ve been higher, one friend guesses, “but she was boy-crazy.” By senior year, she’d made a real catch: a boy who was soft-spoken and well-liked, a member of the soccer team, golf team, and National Honor Society. They went to their senior prom together. Three months later they “had to get married.”

Pam’s devout mother couldn’t have been pleased about the pregnancy. Pam did the responsible thing, but her friends sensed a wistful resentment: Everybody else was caught up in the whirl of college, while here she was, sitting in a cheap apartment spooning strained beets.

The marriage lasted six years. Soon after her divorce, Pam married Mark Hupp, a quiet, easygoing guy who played minor-league baseball for the Texas Rangers and, when he didn’t get drafted, fell back on carpentry. They gave Pam’s daughter a little brother, and in 1989 moved to Naples, Florida. When they returned in 2001, they settled in O’Fallon, Missouri, and started flipping houses on the side.

Pam also took a clerical job in a State Farm office, and Betsy Faria was the first person she met there. Eleven years younger than Pam, Betsy was warm-hearted and bubbly and scatterbrained, always short of cash but shored up emotionally by dozens of friends who adored her. Even at 32, she looked like a greeting card illustration—round face, curly hair, pink cheeks, bright-blue eyes—and in her part-time gig as a DJ, she could coax anybody onto the dance floor. Read more >>