Senser pleads not guilty to third felony charge

Amy Senser
This photo provided by Halberg Criminal Defense law firm taken on Sept. 1, 2011, shows Amy Senser, wife of former Minnesota Vikings tight end Joe Senser, in a Bloomington, Minn., law office. Attorney Marsh Halberg says Amy Senser acknowledges she was the driver of an SUV believed involved in a hit-and-run that killed a pedestrian, in a signed statement to the Minnesota State Patrol Friday, Sept. 2, 2011.
AP Photo/Halberg Criminal Defense law firm

Amy Senser pleaded not guilty to a third felony charge for criminal vehicular homicide Monday in Hennepin County District Court.

Senser entered the plea after judge Daniel Mabley denied defense attorney Eric Nelson's attempt to have the charge dropped for lack of probable cause. The charge, filed last week, is based on an allegation that Senser was on her cell phone at the time she allegedly struck and killed Anousone Phanthavong, 38, on the side of the road last summer.

During the hearing in Hennepin County District Court, assistant Hennepin County Attorney Deborah Russell said that on the night of the accident, Senser told one of her daughters that she had been drinking. The comment came as Russell defended the addition of a third vehicular homicide charge against Senser.

Prosecutors say Senser violated state law because she knew she was involved in an accident and failed to report it in a timely manner. But Nelson argued that the law is unconstitutional, in part because it encourages self-incrimination — a violation of the 5th Amendment. Mabley countered that not all accidents are criminal offenses and denied Nelson's motion.

Nelson wants to prevent the prosecution from using a series of videos that reconstruct pedestrian/vehicle accidents using crash test dummies. He said the videos don't accurately represent what happened the night of Aug. 23, 2011. The videos are shot during the daytime and they involve a different kind of car. "I don't want the jury to be confused," said Nelson.

Russell argued for the use of the videos, saying they will be used to illustrate the testimony of the State Patrol accident scene investigator. Russell said the videos will help the jury understand how the State Patrol reconstructs the scene of an accident.

Russell also requested that the defense be prevented from presenting the results of toxicology tests from Phanthavong at trial. The tests show Phanthavong had a significant amount of cocaine in his system at the time he was killed. Nelson had suggested that the tests show that Phantavong could have made erratic movements at the time he was struck. But Russell said those allegations are, "prejudicial and slanderous toward the victim."

Mabley will issue rulings on these and several other motions before Senser's trial begins next week.