Amy Senser's attorney argued Monday for her freedom as she appeals her criminal vehicular homicide convictions, while her husband made an even more vocal case for his wife in a defiant statement that accused prosecutors of manipulation and lies.
Her 10-minute hearing was followed by Joe Senser's 16-minute news conference in which he railed against Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman for smearing the names of his wife and family as the case wound its way through court. He also vowed to tell the truth about his wife, who he says is a kind and generous person -- a task he claims the media failed.
"I want all Minnesotans to know that at no time during this process did Amy Senser ever try to hide, did she try to get away with an accident that caused the death of Anousone Phanthavong," he said, his voice at times shaking with emotion. "Today I want to speak about a process that was manipulated by elected county attorney Freeman that brought us to where we are here today."
The hearing was Senser's first court appearance since she was sentenced in July to 41 months at the Shakopee women's prison for the August 2011 hit-and-run death of Phanthavong. She is appealing the conviction on multiple grounds.
Last month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sent the case back to District Court, ordering that Judge Daniel Mabley explain why he denied a motion for her release pending appeal before they could consider the case further. Mabley heard arguments Monday from her attorney, Eric Nelson, and Assistant County Attorney Lee Barry, then said he'd rule by the end of the week on whether she'll be freed.
'And the circus continued'
Joe Senser left the courtroom shortly after the hearing began and was waiting for reporters afterward in the atrium of the courthouse. He repeatedly referred to Freeman as "Elected County Attorney Freeman" and Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Deborah Russell, who prosecuted the case, as "Complicit Russell."
He said Freeman's office twisted both his and his wife's silence and statements in the case, and claimed Freeman "dehumanized Amy Senser and made her Public Enemy Number 1 before any evidence was brought forward."
"And the circus continued," he said.
Joe Senser, a former Minnesota Viking, also apologized to the team for the repeated references to his connection to them in news reports. He implored reporters to stop referring to the connection.
Although Joe Senser confronted reporters before, this was the first time he gave a formal statement. His intent, he said, was to "level the playing field" with Freeman. Nelson was not present, but said afterward the comments were likely a reflection of the frustrations the family felt about how prosecutors portrayed Amy Senser. Freeman's office declined to respond.
Joe Senser declined to take questions after his statement, and did not clarify points about threats he claims his family has received as a result of what he said were Freeman's lies.
'Decent, hardworking people'
Amy Senser, who wore prison-issue baggy jeans, a short-sleeved gray sweatshirt and glasses, smiled at her friends and family as she entered the courtroom for the hearing. She said nothing while Nelson reiterated that she was not at risk to escape, commit a crime or intimidate witnesses. He maintained that the appeal was not frivolous and raised legitimate legal issues.
Barry, who works in the Appellate Section of the County Attorney's office, argued that Senser's conviction resulted from a jury verdict and that she should remain in custody.
When it ended, Senser took a last glance at her family before she was escorted from the courtroom. Her teenage daughters were not present.
Joe Senser ended his speech by urging Attorney General Lori Swanson to "keep an eye on this." He was emotional when he added that although Phanthavong's family requested he no longer apologize, "I want them to know that my family will always honor the memory of Anousone Phanthavong."
"And we are good and decent, hardworking people and I don't apologize for hard work," he said. "They tried to paint Amy Senser as this rich, white Edina housewife, and nothing could be further from the truth."
Abby Simons 612-673-4921