Prison sentence likely for Amy Senser

Amy Senser
Amy Senser on her way to the courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center to hear the jury's verdict in her hit-and-run case on Thursday, May 3, 2012, in Minneapolis. At right is one of her daughters. The jury found Senser guilty on two of three felony counts.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Amy Senser now almost certainly faces prison time after a Hennepin County jury found her guilty Thursday of two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide.

Senser, 45, of Edina and the wife of former Minnesota Viking player Joe Senser, was on trial for the hit and run death of 38-year-old Anousone Phanthavong.

Senser stood next to her attorney as the judge's clerk read the verdict for each charge. Guilty on count one, for causing a fatal accident and leaving the scene. Guilty on count two, for causing a fatal accident and failing to notify law enforcement by the quickest means available. Not guilty on count three, gross negligence — but guilty of careless driving, a misdemeanor charge added by the judge at the beginning of the trial as an alternate offense.

Senser's husband of 22 years, Joe Senser, also sat emotionless. Jurors looked tense at the conclusion of the highly publicized trial, with one crying and dabbing at tears with a handkerchief.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for nearly 20 hours over the last three days before reaching their decision.

This was a tough case for the jury, said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

"It's a difficult case because we had to prove by circumstantial evidence what was going on in the mind of another person," Freeman said. "When you prove evidence of a person's actions that's much easier to do. But trying to prove what's going in their mind is very difficult."

Senser's attorney
Eric Nelson, attorney for Amy Senser, speaks to reporters after a jury convicted Senser of two felony counts in her hit-and-run trial at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on Thursday, May 3, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Senser denied knowing that she struck and killed Phanthavong as he tried to put gas in his stalled car along a freeway exit ramp last year. Senser said she was looking the other way as she drove up the ramp in her Mercedes Benz SUV. She also said she heard a clunking noise and thought she had hit a plastic construction barrel.

Ultimately, the jury did not believe her.

Senser's attorney Eric Nelson described her reaction to the verdicts: "Fear. Shock. She has insisted that she didn't see him. And she wants the world to believe that that's the truth. And when you're not apparently believed about that — that's difficult."

Nelson said Senser is not the kind of person to hit someone and leave them on the road. He said Senser wants nothing more than to tell the Phanthavong family how sorry she is. She may do that at sentencing, he said.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman speaks to reporters after a jury convicted Amy Senser on two felony counts in her hit-and-run trial, at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on Thursday, May 3, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The defense will file an appeal, Nelson said. He says he will base much of his appeal on the verdict in count two — failure to notify authorities. During the trial, Nelson argued that the Senser's decision to turn the SUV over to his law firm, which then turned it over to the Minnesota State Patrol the day after the crash, constitutes proper notice.

Each felony count is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but sentencing guidelines suggested four years. The misdemeanor carried a potential sentence of up to 90 days in jail. However, Nelson said he will request a lighter sentence.

Nelson said Senser is prepared for the possibility of a prison sentence, but pointed out that the court could decide not to send her to prison.

The Phanthavong family has also filed a civil suit against Senser. Their lawyer Jim Ballentine stood in front Phathavong's relatives and said that the verdict is not a cause for celebration.

Phanthavong family
Family members of Anousone Phanthavong wait to address the media after a jury found Amy Senser guilty Thursday, May 3, 2012, in Minneapolis, on two felonies in a hit-and-run that killed Phanthavong last year.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"On behalf of the family I would say there is really no big upside to what we've seen today for anybody involved," Ballentine said.

Ballentine declined to comment on the status of the civil suit, other than to say it is ongoing.

Sayaphone Phouthavongsay, one of Phanthavong's nieces, thanked the jury and said the verdict took a weight off the family's shoulders.

"We know they were doing their job so we're glad with the verdict," Phouthavongsay said.

Judge Daniel Mabley did not order Amy Senser to be taken into custody but Senser will return to court for sentencing, scheduled for July.

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