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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Cops buying City Elections-Aaron Foster'NO BAIL

How did Barbara Winn die? 26 years later, the truth may be emerging
Prosecutor says the Maplewood woman was slain as her boyfriend assaulted her
BY MARA H. GOTTFRIED
Pioneer Press

In the room where Barbara Winn died, there were signs of a struggle - an overturned plant, a broken curling iron and a torn-up photograph of her favorite movie star.

Police found a note in Winn's dresser she had written to her boyfriend, Aaron Foster Sr.: "I will not be abused. I am tired of bruises. I am somebody and I don't have to be treated like a nobody."

Foster said he went to his mother's work the night of May 7, 1981. Winn and another girlfriend of Foster's were there, talking about how they needed to get Foster out of their lives.

An argument between Foster and Winn began and Foster's mother told him to leave.

Foster went to an Elks club. A man, who told police he had been at the club at about 10:30 p.m., said he saw Foster in the restroom, accusing another man "of possibly seeing his 'lady friend.' " Foster reportedly threatened that man with a gun.

Later, Foster said he went to a bar and met Winn. The conversation turned into an argument, Foster said.

"He said they argued about another lady," a police report stated. "As he was leaving the bar she said he should pack his things. She also threw a glass at him."

Three people later told police Foster struck Winn. The bar's owner said he heard Foster say, "If I can't have you, no one else will."

Foster said he went to Winn's home in Maplewood and began packing. Winn arrived about an hour later and the argument continued.

THE SCENE

Officers were sent to 368 Dorland Road at about 12:20 a.m. on May 8, 1981 on a "domestic" after a neighbor called about glass breaking. About a minute later, a shooting was reported.

According to Maplewood police reports from 1981 and from the Ramsey County sheriff's office investigation:

Foster met officers in front of the house and was "hysterical." He had blood on his hands "and appeared distraught and anxious."

Officers followed Foster to a bedroom and saw Winn's body on the floor.

Foster told police he was downstairs, packing. Winn was upstairs, he said. Foster said he heard a shot and went upstairs. Foster said Winn told him to get rid of the gun.

Foster said he went downstairs to call police, got frustrated with how long it was taking and broke a window. Foster said that's where the blood on his hands came from.

Then, Foster drove to a nearby 7-Eleven store, where he said he called for an ambulance again. On the way, he said he threw the gun out the car window.

Winn's three children had been in their rooms, on the same floor as their mother's room, when she was shot. Her sons, then 12 and 15, said they heard Foster and Winn fighting and then a loud noise. They went to her room and Foster was running out.

THE CASE NOW

Foster was arrested in 1981, but he wasn't charged until Thursday.

The Ramsey County sheriff's office started an investigation into Winn's death in 2006, when a St. Paul police officer questioned whether Foster should have a concealed-weapon permit because he had been a suspect in Winn's death.

Retired St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney, a close friend of Foster's, questioned the timing of the investigation. He and Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher were in a contentious race for sheriff, which Fletcher narrowly won.

In a statement Friday, Finney said: "I've worked for and supported the criminal justice system my entire life. I believe in it and am confident the judicial process will reveal the truth so Barbara Winn's family can finally find peace."

Fletcher referred the case in August 2006 to the Ramsey County attorney's office for consideration of charges.

Some of the Ramsey County sheriff's investigators' conclusions:

-- The angle of the shot that killed Winn "seems to coincide" with Winn's and Foster's height.

-- A cut on Winn's hand and gunshot residue suggested her hand was on the gun's cylinder when it went off.

-- Foster's statements are "inconsistent" - he gave different statements about where the gun was before and after the shooting; he said Winn told him to get rid of the gun, but her children said she wasn't able to speak; he told emergency dispatchers she "shot herself" and also "she got shot."

-- Foster said he didn't assault Winn, but the autopsy and disarray in the room showed signs of a struggle - a photograph of Winn's favorite actor, Billy Dee Williams, was torn up and other items were strewn about.

Ramsey County prosecutors referred the case to their Anoka County counterparts to avoid any conflict of interest.

The Anoka County attorney's office told Winn's family two months ago they would be convening a grand jury in Ramsey County.

The grand jury had to consider the laws as they were written in 1981, said Bob Goodell, an Anoka County prosecutor. The indictment that the grand jury handed up, third-degree murder, is the equivalent of second-degree murder today, Goodell said.

If Foster is convicted, 1981 sentencing would be used: maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, though the presumptive sentence was eight years and one month, Johnson said.

During Foster's first court appearance Friday, prosecutors sought bail of $350,000.

Earl Gray, Foster's attorney, pointed out that Foster had turned himself in Thursday night after an arrest warrant was issued, has worked for the city for 15 years and didn't have a criminal record.

Ramsey County District Judge Michael Fetsch ordered a conditional release. He told Foster to stay away from Winn's children and to check in with officials by phone once a week.

Foster, a clerk in the St. Paul police impound lot, is on unpaid leave.

Asked about Foster's temperament since his indictment, Gray said, "He's all right. He's a diabetic and he's not real healthy and he's very nervous like anybody would be. It's difficult to defend yourself against charges 27 years old, let me tell you that."

Winn's family said they've waited for years for this day, but they don't want to dwell on why it took so long.

"We could point fingers, we could place blame and that's really not going to get us anywhere at this point," said Patty Bruce, Winn's sister-in-law. "The really important thing right now is that we are where we are today. We are on the right track for justice for Barbara."

Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at mgottfried@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5262.

Twenty-six years after Winn was shot in her Maplewood home, a Ramsey County grand jury indicted Foster, a St. Paul police civilian employee, on Thursday in her murder. Foster was released from jail Friday, a day after being arrested.

The indictment against Foster, 55, for third-degree, unintentional murder doesn't offer details of the alleged crime, but it does provide some insight into the events of May 8, 1981. It says Winn died while Foster was "committing or attempting to commit a felony."

That felony was second-degree assault, Assistant Anoka County Attorney Andrew Johnson said Friday.

Foster told police in 1981 he didn't assault Winn, 35, before she died, but evidence documented in police reports suggests otherwise.

Winn had broken fingernails, a clump of hair in her hand, and bruises on her body.

Foster, through his attorney, has said he's not guilty. He told police Winn killed herself.

THE HOURS BEFORE

Maplewood police reports from 1981 and newer reports from the Ramsey County sheriff's office investigation paint a picture of what might have happened in the hours before Winn


Foster said he went to his mother's work the night of May 7, 1981. Winn and another girlfriend of Foster's were there, talking about how they needed to get Foster out of their lives.

An argument between Foster and Winn began and Foster's mother told him to leave.

Foster went to an Elks club. A man, who told police he had been at the club at about 10:30 p.m., said he saw Foster in the restroom, accusing another man "of possibly seeing his 'lady friend.' " Foster reportedly threatened that man with a gun.

Later, Foster said he went to a bar and met Winn. The conversation turned into an argument, Foster said.

"He said they argued about another lady," a police report stated. "As he was leaving the bar she said he should pack his things. She also threw a glass at him."

Three people later told police Foster struck Winn. The bar's owner said he heard Foster say, "If I can't have you, no one else will."

Foster said he went to Winn's home in Maplewood and began packing. Winn arrived about an hour later and the argument continued.

THE SCENE

Officers were sent to 368 Dorland Road at about 12:20 a.m. on May 8, 1981 on a "domestic" after a neighbor called about glass breaking. About a minute later, a shooting was reported.

According to Maplewood police reports from 1981 and from the Ramsey County sheriff's office investigation:

Foster met officers in front of the house and was "hysterical." He had blood on his hands "and appeared distraught and anxious."

Officers followed Foster to a bedroom and saw Winn's body on the floor.

Foster told police he was downstairs, packing. Winn was upstairs, he said. Foster said he heard a shot and went upstairs. Foster said Winn told him to get rid of the gun.

Foster said he went downstairs to call police, got frustrated with how long it was taking and broke a window. Foster said that's where the blood on his hands came from.

Then, Foster drove to a nearby 7-Eleven store, where he said he called for an ambulance again. On the way, he said he threw the gun out the car window.

Winn's three children had been in their rooms, on the same floor as their mother's room, when she was shot. Her sons, then 12 and 15, said they heard Foster and Winn fighting and then a loud noise. They went to her room and Foster was running out.

THE CASE NOW

Foster was arrested in 1981, but he wasn't charged until Thursday.

The Ramsey County sheriff's office started an investigation into Winn's death in 2006, when a St. Paul police officer questioned whether Foster should have a concealed-weapon permit because he had been a suspect in Winn's death.

Retired St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney, a close friend of Foster's, questioned the timing of the investigation. He and Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher were in a contentious race for sheriff, which Fletcher narrowly won.

In a statement Friday, Finney said: "I've worked for and supported the criminal justice system my entire life. I believe in it and am confident the judicial process will reveal the truth so Barbara Winn's family can finally find peace."

Fletcher referred the case in August 2006 to the Ramsey County attorney's office for consideration of charges.

Some of the Ramsey County sheriff's investigators' conclusions:

-- The angle of the shot that killed Winn "seems to coincide" with Winn's and Foster's height.

-- A cut on Winn's hand and gunshot residue suggested her hand was on the gun's cylinder when it went off.

-- Foster's statements are "inconsistent" - he gave different statements about where the gun was before and after the shooting; he said Winn told him to get rid of the gun, but her children said she wasn't able to speak; he told emergency dispatchers she "shot herself" and also "she got shot."

-- Foster said he didn't assault Winn, but the autopsy and disarray in the room showed signs of a struggle - a photograph of Winn's favorite actor, Billy Dee Williams, was torn up and other items were strewn about.

Ramsey County prosecutors referred the case to their Anoka County counterparts to avoid any conflict of interest.

The Anoka County attorney's office told Winn's family two months ago they would be convening a grand jury in Ramsey County.

The grand jury had to consider the laws as they were written in 1981, said Bob Goodell, an Anoka County prosecutor. The indictment that the grand jury handed up, third-degree murder, is the equivalent of second-degree murder today, Goodell said.

If Foster is convicted, 1981 sentencing would be used: maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, though the presumptive sentence was eight years and one month, Johnson said.

During Foster's first court appearance Friday, prosecutors sought bail of $350,000.

Earl Gray, Foster's attorney, pointed out that Foster had turned himself in Thursday night after an arrest warrant was issued, has worked for the city for 15 years and didn't have a criminal record.

Ramsey County District Judge Michael Fetsch ordered a conditional release. He told Foster to stay away from Winn's children and to check in with officials by phone once a week.

Foster, a clerk in the St. Paul police impound lot, is on unpaid leave.

Asked about Foster's temperament since his indictment, Gray said, "He's all right. He's a diabetic and he's not real healthy and he's very nervous like anybody would be. It's difficult to defend yourself against charges 27 years old, let me tell you that."

Winn's family said they've waited for years for this day, but they don't want to dwell on why it took so long.

"We could point fingers, we could place blame and that's really not going to get us anywhere at this point," said Patty Bruce, Winn's sister-in-law. "The really important thing right now is that we are where we are today. We are on the right track for justice for Barbara."

Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at mgottfried@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5262.

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