Judge denies Senser's request for new trial

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 in a file photo from May 2012. Her request for a new trial was denied on Thursday, May 31, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Hennepin County District Court Judge Daniel Mabley has denied Amy Senser's request for a new trial and an acquittal.

Earlier this month, a jury found Senser, the wife of former Viking Joe Senser, guilty of two charges of criminal vehicular homicide in the death of Anousone Phanthavong of Roseville last year.

Phanthavong, 38, was trying to put gas in his car on the side of a freeway exit ramp when Amy Senser struck and killed him. The jury found Amy Senser guilty of striking Phanthavong, leaving the scene and failing to notify authorities in a timely manner.

Amy Senser was found not guilty of a third charge of gross negligence, but the jury did find her guilty of a lesser charge of careless driving.

Amy Senser's defense attorney Eric Nelson argued that she should be acquitted because the felony convictions are based on the conclusion that she knew she struck a person. Amy Senser testified that she didn't know she struck Phanthavong, and Nelson said the state never proved she did.

"The evidence was insufficient to show knowledge," said Nelson.

Nelson also reiterated a point from his closing argument from the trial that the Sensers gave notification of the accident in a timely manner. The day after the accident, Joe Senser turned over the Mercedes Benz SUV to Nelson's law firm, which later that day surrendered the car to the State Patrol. However, Amy Senser waited until 10 days later to disclose she was the driver of the SUV on the night of the collision.

Nelson also argued that Amy Senser deserved a new trial because of a note jurors passed to Judge Mabley right before the verdicts were announced.

The note said, "Can this be read in the courtroom in front of Ms. Senser? We believe Ms. Senser believed she hit a car or a vehicle, not a person." Mabley didn't read the note aloud and he didn't tell the parties about it until after the verdicts were announced.

Nelson told Mabley he made a mistake by not notifying him beforehand.

"The note goes directly to the heart of the matter in this case," said Nelson.

But Mabley replied, "The note was a complete non-issue."

Mabley said he wasn't required to share the note with the parties because it was not a request for information. And he said if jurors were truly confused, they would have sent him a note before completing their deliberations. Mabley added that the jurors had already made up their minds about Amy Senser's guilt at least an hour before sending him the note.

Amy Senser is scheduled to be sentenced on July 9.

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