Prosecutor: Senser proof ample

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 11, 2013 - 11:37 PM

The convictions that sent Amy Senser to prison for 3 1/2 years in the death of Anousone Phanthavong were justified, appellate brief says.

The extensive damage to Amy Senser's SUV and her husband's immediate concern when he learned a man had been killed in a hit-and-run incident demonstrate that Amy Senser knew she had hit more than a construction barrel before fleeing the Minneapolis freeway ramp where a popular chef was killed, prosecutors argued Monday.

In a 53-page brief filed Monday with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Lee W. Barry reiterated that the evidence against the wife of former Minnesota Vikings star Joe Senser supports her conviction on two counts of criminal vehicular homicide in the hit-and-run death of Anousone Phanthavong, 38. The circumstantial evidence, ranging from deleted text messages, to giving away the clothing she was wearing that night and even allegedly changing the color of her hair, is beyond sufficient to prove her guilt, Barry wrote.

"Not only did [Senser] flee the scene of this collision, she took pains to cover up her involvement," Barry wrote in response to Senser's appeal.

Senser, 46, is serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence.

Senser's attorney, Eric Nelson, filed a 45-page brief Dec. 26 arguing that the convictions should be overturned because prosecutors failed to prove she knew she struck Phanthavong, and that a series of missteps by District Judge Daniel Mabley resulted in an unfair trial. The judge said at her sentencing that he doubted the candor of Senser's testimony and her willingness to accept responsibility for Phanthavong's death.

Barry repeatedly defended Mabley's rulings in the brief, including a decision to exclude toxicology reports that showed Phanthavong had a high level of cocaine in his system at the time of his death. Mabley ruled that it was irrelevant because there was no proof it affected his behavior the night of the accident.

"[Senser] merely wanted to impugn the character of the victim and invite the jury to speculate as to what possible effect this evidence may have had upon the incident," Barry wrote.

Nelson declined to comment on the prosecution arguments.

A 'housekeeping' matter

Phanthavong, longtime chef at True Thai restaurant in Minneapolis, had finished his shift the night he was struck and killed by Amy Senser, who failed to pick up her teenage daughters from a concert at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. She left the scene of the accident, and her attorneys turned over the vehicle to authorities the next day. She admitted to being the driver more than a week later under pressure from her stepdaughter. During trial, Senser repeatedly testified that she believed she had struck a construction cone or barrel the night Phanthavong died. Testimony revealed that the 5-foot-3, 135-pound man was thrown more than 50 feet. He died at the scene.

The brief, which repeatedly cites Amy Senser's testimony from her April trial -- including her own incredulity at how she could not have known she struck a person that night -- also invokes the testimony of Joe Senser, who, on the morning after the accident, saw the damage to the vehicle and saw news reports and immediately questioned whether his wife had been in the area.

"At that point, it was evident that she had been involved in a collision that was much more than striking a construction cone," Barry wrote. "In fact, her husband had no difficulty in concluding that she had been involved in the fatal collision with [Phanthavong]."

The prosecution brief also defends Mabley's decision not to change the venue, sequester the jury throughout the trial or to disclose a note the jury wrote -- written after the jury verdicts were reached but before they were announced in open court -- that read, "Can this be read in the courtroom in front of Ms. [Senser]? We believe, she believed she hit a car or vehicle and not a person."

Mabley did not disclose the existence of the note to either side until days later. Nelson argued that the note was "central to the case and the jury's determination of guilt."

Barry argued that, under Minnesota law, attorneys must be notified when a jury asks for review of testimony, evidence or a point of law, but anything besides a legal matter is merely "housekeeping."

"In this case, the jury only asked the court whether it could explain the rationale behind its verdict to [Senser]," Barry wrote.

Nelson has 15 days to respond to the brief, then oral arguments will be scheduled.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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