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'There are still some people who feel I got away with murder. That's a real painful thing.'

November 10, 1987|PATT MORRISON

Even in San Francisco, even four years later, whenever a police car looms in her rear-view mirror, Ginny Foat feels the fear.

It was police cars and police marksmen that surrounded her at Burbank Airport one day in January, 1983. Foat, then living in Los Angeles and the first salaried president of the California chapter of the National Organization for Women, was handcuffed and arrested for a 1965 bludgeon-murder in New Orleans that her ex-convict ex-husband had accused her of helping him commit.

Four years after a Louisiana jury found her not guilty, part of the life that Foat, now 46, has made for herself after moving to San Francisco is a "still" life. She still owes money to her lawyers, she is still awaiting a television movie of her life, she is still suing a Los Angeles woman whose inquiry about Foat to a Louisiana sheriff apparently triggered her arrest.

Shedding 1983's unwanted publicity, she has a different public profile, one of her own choosing. Foat, born into an Italian Catholic family, protested the Pope's recent Bay Area visit as "outrageous." In August, her fund-raiser garnered $15,000 for the brief presidential campaign of Rep. Pat Schroeder. And Foat is a co-chair of the San Francisco mayoral campaign of John Molinari.

On behalf of battered women--among whom she counts herself--she recently appeared on television's "Oprah Winfrey Show." The group she founded, Legal Advocates for Women, is pledged to aiding women who finally fight back and even kill abusive mates.

Much of her time goes to the Langtry, a renovated Victorian guest house "with the woman traveler in mind," owned by Foat and "a lot" of others in a venture named "Painted Lady."

Although men are "welcome," the antique-appointed Langtry is geared to women, with hair dryers instead of shoeshine kits, a chocolate teddy bear--Foat's good-luck token--on the pillow at night, and business services for women. They also offer seminars such as "a series on power kinds of things--money, understanding that a hostile takeover is not somebody grabbing your sale dress at Macy's," Foat said.

Still, it is a smaller circle for a woman who was a Kennedy delegate to the 1980 Democratic convention, who came that close to achieving the national stature she wanted--not as a murder defendant, but as a feminist leader. The woman who lost a 1982 bid to become a national vice president for NOW by just a few votes said her politics are now confined to running for treasurer of her neighborhood association.

Despite her acquittal, she said: "It's real clear to me there are still some people who feel I got away with murder. That's a real painful thing."

Although she no longer seeks national stature, Foat's life is now an open book: several books, in fact, including her autobiography, "Never Guilty, Never Free," and Ellen Hawkes' "Feminism on Trial," about the Foat case and its impact on feminism.

Actress Marlo Thomas hoped to produce and star in a TV movie about Foat, but her partner, Kathie Berlin, said they recently decided that they "just could not make it work" for now.

"We were so disappointed," she said, but the complexities of Foat's life proved too daunting for two hours: "There were so many women who she was before she became who she is."

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