Pre-Trial Begins for Man Indicted in 26-Year Cold Case
Barbara Winn died of a gunshot wound 26 years ago. Now, family members and the Ramsey County Sheriff is trying to get the case moving.
20 March 2008
Aaron Foster appeared in court Thursday to answer charges that he murdered girlfriend Barbara Winn in 1981. Foster was indicted by a grand jury last November. On that day in May 1981, Barbara and Aaron got into a fight at a St. Paul bar. Upon returning home, they argued, and Barbara was shot. Barbara's children reported seeing Foster flee the town home that night, tossing the gun. Maplewood Police lost the physical evidence in the case. Police believe the evidence was lost when they moved to a new station house. Defense attorney Earl Gray says police intentionally destroyed the evidence, because modern forensics could clear his client. Authorities found a letter written by Barbara that night. It read, "I'm not your girlfriend anymore. I will not be abused. I am tired of the bruises. I am somebody and don't have to be treated like a nobody. Strike three you're out." Winn's children believe she intended to leave Foster the night she was killed. The defense is pushing for other statements to be tossed out before the trial. Foster has been accused of abusing and threatening other wives and girlfriends in the past. The pre-trial will resume Monday. [Source article is here]
Will '81 murder case be tried or dismissed?
The victim's family packed the court as a Ramsey County judge heard arguments for throwing out the case.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, MN
By PAT PHEIFER
March 20, 2008
About a half-hour after a hearing began Thursday in a St. Paul courtroom, the door swung open and family members of Barbara (Bobbi) Winn streamed in and in and in. Soon, at least four dozen people had squeezed into the benches. They have waited nearly 27 years for a case in her death to come to court, and now Ramsey County District Judge Edward Cleary was hearing arguments about dismissing the murder case against Aaron W. Foster and suppressing evidence and statements... Prosecutors declined to charge Foster in 1981, citing insufficient evidence. The case had political overtones when it was reopened in 2006 by the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office during a contentious election race between Sheriff Bob Fletcher and former St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney, a close friend and ally of Foster... In the years between the two investigations, however, physical evidence in the case, such as clothing, fingernail clippings and items found at the scene, was lost or destroyed... [Defense attorney Earl] Gray also argued that statements Foster made the night of Winn's death should be suppressed because officers did not read him his Miranda rights, and that a search of his person was unlawful. Prosecutor Deidre Aanstad contended that Foster wasn't in custody when he made those statements and he simply emptied his pockets when an officer asked him to. The court also heard testimony from a blood-spatter expert, and three retired Maplewood police officers who investigated the case. Prosecutors are expected to call at least one more witness when the hearing continues Monday... [Full article here]
Attorney wants suspect Aaron Foster's indictment tossed in case that was reopened in 2006
By Emily Gurnon
The investigation into the 1981 death of Barbara Winn could not have been more botched, including the loss or destruction of all physical evidence in the case, the attorney for Winn's alleged killer argued Thursday. Defense attorney Earl Gray, representing Aaron Walter Foster, argued several motions in Ramsey County District Court, trying to get the indictment against Foster thrown out or to suppress evidence... Authorities say he had abused Winn, his 35-year-old girlfriend, before. He had blood on his hands, got rid of the gun and gave outlandish statements about the events of the night of May 8, 1981, they argue. But Foster maintained Winn shot herself. The county attorney at the time did not press charges. Among the testimony at Thursday's hearing: All evidence in the case is now gone. Gray contends the state intentionally destroyed it to make it harder for Foster to defend himself. To this, Judge Edward Cleary responded, "Well, it goes both ways, doesn't it?" Kenneth Collins spent 32 years with the Maplewood Police Department and was an investigator on the Winn case. He said several items were taken to the St. Paul crime lab for examination, including the gun, a jacket and a shirt Foster had been wearing the night of Winn's death. Collins signed a document that said he had retrieved all but the gun from St. Paul - but there was no evidence those items made it back to the Maplewood police evidence locker. There is no entry in the logbook and no mention in his report... Gray also argued the search of Winn's house was illegal. Police didn't get written consent. When asked where the consent came from, Collins said, "From the Winn children, more than likely that same evening at the police department." Gray later said all three Winn children were younger than 16 at the time and therefore incapable of giving consent. The state, represented by Anoka County assistant attorneys Andrew Johnson and Deidre Aanstad, argued in their written briefs that Foster had consented to the warrantless searches and had invited officers to the scene to assist him. Ramsey County has referred the case to Anoka County to avoid any potential conflicts of interest... [Full article here]
Thank you, Cloud! Your work, dedication, and compassion is incredible!!ReplyDelete
You have inspired me like no one else has done! I am so honored to be your friend, and consider myself and all who know you incredibly Blessed!
Your friend in Truth and Justice for ALL,
IN DISTRICT COURT
SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT
File No. K3-07-003854
STATE OF MINNESOTA
COUNTY OF RAMSEY
State of Minnesota,
Aaron Walter Foster,
- - - - - - - - - - -
Almost 27 years ago, Barbara Winn died as the result of a gunshot wound to her chest.
The shooting occurred in the bedroom of a residence she shared with the Defendant and her three children. Those who initially responded to the emergency calls, police officers, officers/paramedics, and fire department personnel, were understandably concerned with the welfare of Ms. Winn. It is what happened after Ms. Winn's death had been confirmed that has led to a number of unanswered questions.
These questions primarily revolve around the action and inaction of members of the Maplewood Police Department in 1981 and thereafter. Officers did not properly advise the Defendant of his constitutional rights; they did not obtain a search warrant before seizing evidence from the residence, despite having had the opportunity to do so; once the Ramsey County Attorney's Office declined prosecution, they did not conduct additional investigation when the evidence and witnesses were still available; and, finally, they lost or destroyed evidence relating to a possible homicide, a crime for which there is no statute of limitations. The conduct of the Maplewood Police Department, as it pertains to the investigation of the death of Barbara Winn, was unprofessional, irresponsible, and inexplicable. The public in general, and the members of Ms. Winn's family in particular, deserved better.
Nevertheless, for the reasons stated, the Court is denying the Defendant's motions to dismiss and granting, in part, Defendant's motions to suppress evidence
Blunders limit evidence in '81 deathReplyDelete
Judge criticizes police, rules items inadmissible in Foster's trial
Pioneer Press, MN
By Emily Gurnon
The conduct of the Maplewood Police Department following the shooting death of Barbara Winn in May 1981 was "unprofessional, irresponsible and inexplicable," Ramsey County District Judge Edward Cleary said in a ruling Wednesday, with evidence lost or destroyed and an investigation that went nowhere.
Now, some of those police mistakes will mean the evidence officials do have cannot be used.
Winn's boyfriend at the time, Aaron Walter Foster, initially was held in the shooting but was not charged until 2007, a quartercentury later.
Foster maintains that Winn, 35, killed herself.
With the judge's ruling, the jury in Foster's upcoming trial will hear no discussion and see no photos of the following:
-- A copy of a two-page note that Winn allegedly wrote to Foster, which says: "I will not be abused. I am tired of bruises. I am somebody and I don't have to be treated like a nobody." Police took the note from a dresser drawer in the bedroom Winn and Foster shared, after one of Winn's teenage children tipped them off to its existence. They had no search warrant.
-- A torn photo of Winn's favorite movie star, also from the dresser drawer.
-- Photos of items that police took from the bedroom where Winn was found, including a broken curling iron and a hairnet. Those were in "plain view," and such items sometimes can be seized without a warrant, but the judge ruled those did not fit the test. It was not immediately apparent that the items were contraband or evidence of a crime.
-- Most of the questioning of Foster by one of the first officers on the scene. The state has conceded that other officers got statements from Foster in violation of his constitutional rights, and those won't be allowed in trial.
Prosecutors can use photos taken by police officers when they first arrived at the scene of the shooting and were invited in by Foster, the judge ruled.
They also can discuss the four .38-caliber bullet cartridges and red folding knife found in Foster's pocket the night of the shooting. The department has said that those items were lost along with the other physical evidence in the case, and they do not know why.
The judge also rejected defense motions that the case be thrown out.
That pleased Winn family members, who are not worried that some evidence will be suppressed.
"There's an overwhelming amount of evidence in this case," said Patty Bruce, Winn's sister-in-law. "We're still confident."
Winn died May 8, 1981, at her Maplewood town home at 368 Dorland Road. Her three children — the oldest one 15 — were at home at the time.
Foster, now 56, called police from a 7-Eleven after the shooting, pitching the gun out of the window of his car on his way. He later said Winn shot herself and asked him to get rid of the weapon.
Earl Gray, Foster's attorney, said the judge told the two sides not to talk about the case.
Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522.
...Once the case was reopened, investigators talked to several people who hadn't been interviewed... [Brenda] Jones told Sgt. Bill Snyder, the lead investigator, that she'd seen Foster hit Winn that night and that Winn told her he'd hit her in the past. Jones also told Snyder that Foster had pulled a gun on her brother the night Winn died. "I asked Jones why she never told the police about this," Snyder wrote. "She stated she has been waiting many years to give this information but no one ever came"...ReplyDelete
To victim's family, the case was never cold
By Pat Pheifer
April 20, 2008
The bar owner doesn't remember what time they came in that night or when they left. But Grady Meadows, former owner of the Tipsy Tiger in St. Paul, remembers Aaron Foster grabbing Barbara (Bobbi) Winn by the arm and hitting her twice in the face.
And he said he remembers Foster cursing her, saying, "If I can't have you, no one else will," according to investigative reports from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.
A few hours later, Winn, 35, lay dead from a gunshot wound to the chest in the bedroom of her Maplewood home.
More than 26 years passed before a grand jury indicted Foster, now 56, on charges of third-degree murder. He has maintained since Winn died shortly after midnight on May 8, 1981, that she shot herself, and in her dying breath told him to get rid of the gun.
But as attorneys work to prepare for his trial this summer, Winn's family hasn't wavered in its long-standing belief that Foster is a murderer.
"He [Foster] needs to go to prison," said Patty Bruce, Winn's sister-in-law, who has become a crusader against domestic violence. "He should have been there a long time ago."
Details of what transpired that night in 1981 are spelled out in police and autopsy reports and transcripts that were filed in February as appendixes to motions by Foster's attorney, Earl Gray, who hoped to have the case dismissed. Other details emerged when several retired Maplewood police officers testified at a two-day motion hearing last month.
According to the records:
Maplewood police went to Winn's home on Dorland Road about 12:15 a.m. May 8 on a report of a domestic dispute.
Foster met the officers in front of the split-level townhouse and led them to a second-floor bedroom. Winn was already dead.
Foster told officers that he and Winn had argued at the Tipsy Tiger bar and he'd come home to pack his clothes and move out. He said Winn returned a couple of hours later.
"Aaron heard a shot and went upstairs," officer Steve Heinz wrote in his report. "She was still able to speak. She said, 'I just shot myself.' Then she told Aaron to get rid of the gun."
Foster told police he punched out a kitchen window in frustration while trying to call for help. He said he then drove to a nearby 7-11 store to call an ambulance and threw the gun out the window along the way.
What the children saw
But Winn's children told investigators a different story. Winn's eldest son, Randy, then 15, told Sgt. Norm Green that he and his brother, Tyrone, 12, heard their mother and Foster arguing, "then I heard a real loud noise that sounded like something clapping, then me and my brother went into the room and saw our mother bent over bleeding and he [Foster] was running out," according to a 1981 transcript.
Tyrone Winn told Green that he picked up the gun "and was going to go downstairs with it. ... I figured he shot her so I was going to go shoot him."
Foster was later arrested and held for two days before being released without charges.
Gunshot residue tests conducted by an FBI lab in Washington, D.C., showed residue on Winn's hands but "no significant amounts" on Foster's. "However," the lab report said, "this does not preclude the possibility that he could have discharged a firearm ..."
The Ramsey County medical examiner's office never ruled on whether Winn's death was a suicide or a homicide.
When the case was presented to Assistant Ramsey County Attorney James Konen in the summer of 1981, he declined to take it to a grand jury, citing "insufficient evidence."
The investigation into Winn's death remained largely stagnant until 2006, when Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher created a cold-case unit and reopened the case. Almost immediately, the investigation took on political overtones -- Fletcher was in the midst of a contentious campaign for reelection with retired St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney, a longtime friend of Foster's.
Despite skepticism about the timing and Fletcher's motives, Winn's family says the sheriff was just doing his job. "If he had overlooked this case because of the upcoming election, that would have been political," said Bruce, Winn's sister-in-law. "He did exactly what he was supposed to do."
Once the case was reopened, investigators talked to several people who hadn't been interviewed, including Meadows, the former bar owner, and Brenda Jones, who was at the bar with Winn and her sisters that night.
Jones told Sgt. Bill Snyder, the lead investigator, that she'd seen Foster hit Winn that night and that Winn told her he'd hit her in the past. Jones also told Snyder that Foster had pulled a gun on her brother the night Winn died.
"I asked Jones why she never told the police about this," Snyder wrote. "She stated she has been waiting many years to give this information but no one ever came."
It's not clear what prompted prosecutors to present the case to a grand jury last fall. Neither Snyder nor prosecutors Deirdre Aanstad and Andrew Johnson would speak on the record for fear of jeopardizing the case. Defense attorney Gray said last week that District Judge Edward J. Cleary has cautioned the parties not to talk to the media.
The here and now
Despite Gray's attempts to have the case against Foster dismissed, Cleary last week denied defense motions to do so. He did grant, in part, motions to suppress evidence and some statements Foster made to police.
Winn's family was not deterred. "We're going to trial!" Bruce shouted when she heard about the ruling.
Bruce was 19 when Winn died, and said she watched family members, including her husband, Calvin, build a fortress around their emotions as the case stagnated.
Thanks to her efforts, the case attracted the attention of the national media in 2006. Later this spring, "Dateline NBC" plans to air an hour-long documentary on it.
"It's a horrible thing for anybody to lose a loved one," Bruce said. "It's even more horrible to lose someone because somebody took their life. But it's unbearable when one of your loved ones is murdered and there's no justice. It's like that person didn't count, like that person didn't matter."
Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551
WINN FORENSICS EVIDENCEReplyDelete
WINN DEATH SCENE DIAGRAM