Family finds some justice for 1981 death

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2012 - 7:38 PM

A judge found Aaron Foster civilly liable in the death of Barbara Winn and awarded her three children $6 million.

Tammi Halliburton was 13 when she heard the gunshot that killed her mother in their Maplewood townhouse.

Wednesday, at age 44, she realized a decades-long quest for justice when a Ramsey County district judge ruled that Aaron Foster is civilly liable in her mother's death.

"Giving up was never an option," Halliburton said. "If the tables were turned and it was one of us, she would've never given up."

Halliburton's mother, Barbara Winn, was dating Foster and arguing with him when she was fatally shot May 8, 1981.

Her children, ages 15, 13 and 12 at the time, said Foster killed their mother. Halliburton's brothers overheard the argument. Foster told police Winn shot herself.

Foster, who was a close friend of former St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney, wasn't charged until 2007. The case was reopened in 2006 by the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office during a contentious election for sheriff between Sheriff Bob Fletcher and Finney, who was called to testify during the trial.

When Foster was acquitted at trial in 2008, it was a blow to Winn's family.

"This has been an incredibly horrible experience to watch," said Patty Bruce, Winn's sister-in-law and the trustee of her children. "I am so completely relieved, and I am so completely at peace with what the judge did [Wednesday]."

Winn's family filed a wrongful death suit against Foster in April.

Foster did not respond to the summons and complaint, so an attorney for Winn's children asked for a judgment by default. Judge Dale Lindman found Foster civilly liable and ordered him to pay $6 million in damages. The family doesn't expect to see much, if any of the money, although its attorney plans to start assessing Foster's assets.

"It was about justice, plain and simple," said the family's attorney, David Schultz. "They know that Aaron Foster murdered their mother, and they wanted some kind of recognition of that fact.

"This family's been waiting 30 years for justice, and in that 30 years they've endured an odyssey of truly epic proportions. Today, the court brought that journey to an end. The court gave them the little justice that was available to them."

Foster, who once worked at the St. Paul police impound lot, was not in court Wednesday.

Halliburton said she's happy with the judge's decision, although she would've preferred that the civil matter go to trial so that Foster would have to answer for his actions.

"I would've liked to have him get up and speak about it since he's told so many lies along the way," she said. "Most cowards don't do that.

"He knows what he did. We know what he did, and now everybody knows what he did."

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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