St. Paul man sentenced to 12 years in prison for fatal shooting after liquor dispute

13 July 2023

A St. Paul man was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison for fatally shooting a man who was running from a fight in the city’s Frogtown neighborhood last July.

Payton Lee Wood, 23, had pleaded guilty to unintentional murder in connection with the killing of 59-year-old Jeffrey Foss, who was shot in the back of the head in the 600 block of Dale Street on July 1, 2022, after an altercation over liquor and cigarettes.

Payton Lee Wood (Courtesy of the Ramsey County sheriff’s office)

Wood told police that he feared he was going to be stabbed during a fight with Foss’ friend, who at one point pulled out a knife.

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Erin Gustafson said at sentencing that video surveillance shows Wood fired one shot from about 80 to 90 feet away at Foss and Foss’ friend.

“This is not self-defense, or felony manslaughter,” Gustafson said. “This is felony murder.”

Both Foss’ friend and Wood’s friend told police that Foss “didn’t do anything to instigate the situation or provoke the situation,” Gustafson said.

Wood, who had no prior criminal history, faced a guideline sentence of between 128 and 150 months. Gustafson argued for a “middle-of-the-box” sentence.

“What I can’t get over, Mr. Wood, are things about you that are totally diametrically opposite,” Ramsey County Judge Jacob Kraus said before handing down the 144-month sentence. “One is that you have no history that’s relevant. You also brought a gun to a fistfight, or at most, a knife fight.”

Punctured tire

Foss was found dead on a sidewalk in front of a Frogtown apartment building, where Wood lived, at about 3 a.m.

Wood’s friend reported that they saw two men walking near picnic tables who were looking at liquor bottles and cigarette packs on the tables. Wood asked one of the men what they were doing and told him the items on the tables were “their stuff.”

Foss’ friend told Wood that whatever was left on the table by the street was “fair game.”

Foss said, “We mean no harm,” according to the complaint. Wood’s friend said he “didn’t understand why Wood was making a big deal out of it since the bottles and cigarette packs were empty,” the complaint continued.

Wood and Foss’ friend fought. When Foss’ friend had Wood by the neck, Wood’s friend removed the hold. Foss’ friend grabbed a knife and dropped it in the street.

Wood went toward his vehicle and Foss’ friend punctured one of his tires with the knife. The man later told police he did it to prevent Wood and his friend from chasing him and Foss. He said he yelled for Foss to run and, after rounding a corner, he heard a gunshot.

Wood left the scene and turned himself in to police five days later. Wood, who spoke to investigators with his attorney, said Foss’ friend swung a knife at him, he and his friend backed away, and the man followed them to his Chevrolet Avalanche. He said he grabbed a gun from the truck and fired once when Foss’ friend was about 5 feet from him.

“Wood said he feared the man was going to stab him or come back later to do something,” the complaint said.

When an investigator told Wood the man he shot was not the one with the knife and “was much farther away than 5 feet, Wood indicated that his version was how he recalled the incident,” the complaint continued.

Wood said he had the gun for protection because of problems in the area. He said he threw it in the Mississippi River and someone got rid of his clothes.

Surveillance footage

Gustafson told the court Wednesday that Wood’s statement to police was “flat-out lies” and was contradicted by what was captured on surveillance footage.

“The two others that are still alive, besides the defendant, are both clear that Mr. Foss never assaulted anyone, never did anything,” she said. “They’re also both clear that (Foss’ friend) never was swinging a knife at anybody, was never threatening anybody with his knife.”

Wood’s attorney, Paul Sellers, asked the judge for a 128-month sentence. He said the “undisputed facts” are that Wood was placed into a headlock, a knife was pulled and he attempted to escape before his tire was slashed and he fired a single shot.

Sellers said Wood grew up in Forest Lake and “wasn’t used to situations like that at all. He wasn’t used to confrontations turning physical. The whole situation was surprising to him and confusing, and led to this.”

Before hearing his sentence from the judge, Wood apologized to Foss’ family, saying “it’s something they should never have to go through.”

Before being let out of the courtroom to serve his sentence, he looked back at family and friends sitting in the gallery and blew them a kiss.

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