Joe Senser: No-show wife on night of crash was not a surprise

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 26, 2012 - 11:15 PM

Used to life in "Amyworld," he didn't question her night of crash.

Referring to his wife's independence and carefree attitude as "Amyworld," Joe Senser said he wasn't surprised when she got lost and failed to pick up their two daughters and two friends from a concert at the Xcel Energy Center the night of Aug. 23.

It was why he didn't question her about where she'd been when he arrived home that night after he brought the girls home instead, Senser told prosecutor Deborah Russell.

"It was not out of the ordinary that she didn't contact the girls and they had to call you to pick them up?" she asked.

"That's Margaret, that's her personality," Senser said, referring to Amy by her middle name. He testified that she isn't erratic, as Russell put it, but rather "fiercely independent."

"It's one of the most admirable qualities in a human being," Senser said, describing her ability to take off and explore without planning. It happens often, he testified, and was part of the reason he urged her to finally get a cellphone, which she did two years ago.

The testimony on the fourth day of Amy Senser's criminal vehicular homicide trial focused on her whereabouts before and after she struck and killed Anousone Phanthavong, 38, at the Riverside Avenue exit ramp that night, several miles west of downtown St. Paul on Interstate 94. The defense has maintained that Senser didn't know she'd hit someone when she left the scene.

At the start of Thursday's proceedings, Hennepin County District Judge Daniel Mabley admonished Joe Senser for speaking to jurors from the witness stand the day before while Russell and defense attorney Eric Nelson were conferring with Mabley at the bench. Russell said two of her staff members saw Senser lean toward the jury and say, "She wants me to tell the truth, doesn't she?"

"I frankly am shocked, and in all my time as a prosecutor I've never had a witness take it upon themselves to speak to the jury," Russell said.

Mabley told the jury to disregard anything Senser may have said to them.

'She was just lost'

The defense has maintained that Amy Senser planned to meet up with the girls at the Katy Perry concert but left without seeing them because she had a sinus infection and migraine headache.

A sobbing Hannah Senser, 14, testified Thursday that she knew her mom was at the concert because Senser called her during their favorite song, "Firework." "It was loud on my end because I was still in the concert. I didn't really hear anything else," she testified.

One of the girls, Madeline Hare, 15, confirmed Hannah's account. After the concert, they tried for several minutes to find Senser before Hare got through on her cellphone. "She was in the car and didn't know how to get back," Hare said. "She was just lost."

The girls waited and tried to direct Senser back to the Xcel Center before they gave up and Hannah called Joe Senser about 11:30. He picked them up and returned them to the Sensers' Edina home after midnight. During the ride, Hare testified, Joe Senser was on the phone with his wife, trying to give her directions. When they arrived home, Amy Senser was waiting on the porch. During that time, Hare testified, Hannah Senser mentioned that maybe her mother had been drinking.

On the stand Thursday, Hannah Senser denied saying that.

"It's possible," she conceded to Nelson, the defense attorney. "But I don't remember saying anything like that."

Defense claims that Amy Senser left the concert early due to a migraine were never discussed Thursday.

'I don't remember'

Both girls testified that Amy Senser was on the porch when they got home and that Joe Senser was irritated with her because he'd been roused from bed to pick up the girls. Neither girl testified that anyone asked Amy Senser what happened.

Hannah Senser was succinct in her responses. She answered most questions with, "I don't remember," and broke down in sobs each time she glanced at her mother. She testified that her father told her and her sister Molly, 15, about a fatal accident the day after the crash but said she didn't recall whether he told them their mom was involved. They went to Stillwater that night, she testified. It was the same night the State Patrol seized the Mercedes-Benz involved in the crash.

Pressed by Russell, Hannah said she and her parents haven't talked much in the eight months since the crash. Small conversations have been the extent of their communication, she said.

"Your mom never said what she was doing the night of Aug. 23?" Russell asked.

"No," Hannah responded.

"You never asked her?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I don't know, I guess I never really wanted to know."

During questioning earlier in the day, Joe Senser said he tried to contact his wife while driving from his Edina home to pick up the girls, but the reception kept cutting out on their cellphones. One call lasted eight minutes, according to records, but Senser testified that he simply kept the line open for that period. Others were a series of missed calls as he tried to get in touch with his wife.

Russell also asked Senser about his testimony Wednesday that his wife had not lied to him in their 22 years of marriage.

"Not about having affairs with other men?" she asked Thursday.

Senser testified that he'd never asked her about affairs.

"Did you catch her in inappropriate relationships with other men?" she asked.

"No."

Other testimony Thursday

• Longtime Senser family friend Sandra Delgehausen said Molly Senser called her a little more than an hour after the crash and warned her to stay away from her mother. She testified that Molly sounded upset and asked whether she had been with Amy Senser that night. When Delgehausen said no, she testified, Molly Senser told her to stay away from her mother. Delgehausen added that she never asked why.

• State Patrol investigator Sgt. Dan Beasley testified that he took a statement from Joe Senser’s friend and mentor, Dr. Rick Sponaugle, who, according to an interview transcript, told an investigator that Senser told him that he and Amy learned about the crash that killed Phanthavong while they were watching the news. The account differs from that of Joe Senser, who testified that he saw the damaged car, thought it was curious and looked up an online news account. Sponaugle is scheduled to be called as a defense witness, but said medical issues prevented him from coming from Florida, where he lives. He may testify via a live video feed.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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