Senser's lawyer tries to head off questions on alcohol

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 12, 2012 - 10:53 PM

That was among a flurry of motions made ahead of April 23 trial.

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Amy Senser, followed by her husband Joe Senser, made her way into the Hennepin Government Center for a court appearance in January.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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An attorney for Amy Senser has asked a Hennepin County judge to prohibit prosecutors from asking witnesses about Senser's drinking habits during her upcoming criminal vehicular-homicide trial.

It was among a slew of requests in motions filed this week by the defense and prosecution, which is asking that hearsay statements that Joe Senser allegedly made to a Florida doctor and his brother-in-law, an Edina police sergeant, be allowed at trial.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson's motion asks Judge Daniel Mabley for an order stopping Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Deborah Russell from implying that Senser's long-standing refusal to discuss the incident with police points toward her guilt.

The motion also asks that the Sensers' 25-year-old daughter, Brittani Senser, not be pressed by prosecutors about "private family matters or familial relationships." It also wants to prevent the state from presenting witnesses who would testify about drinking and driving or any other testimony that implies Amy Senser was drunk or on drugs at the time of the crash.

Senser's attorney said she was the driver of the SUV that struck and killed Anousone Phanthavong, 38, on an Interstate 94 exit ramp in August in Minneapolis. But Nelson has maintained that Senser did not realize she had struck someone when she left the scene. Jury selection in her trial on two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide is scheduled to begin April 23.

Nelson also requested there be no reference of the wrongful-death lawsuit that Phanthavong's family has filed against Senser and her husband, former Minnesota Vikings star Joe Senser.

In her own motion, Russell requested that the hearsay statements Joe Senser allegedly made the morning after the crash be admissible as evidence. Court documents say he made a telephone call to Dr. Rick Sponaugle, medical director of Florida Detox and Wellness Institute, the morning after the crash, as well as to Amy Senser's brother, Edina police Sgt. Tim Olson, asking for advice on who to hire as an attorney.

Sponaugle, who will testify at Senser's trial, said he never treated Amy Senser for chemical dependency. However, prosecutors contend he is a key state witness because Joe Senser allegedly "made admissions regarding [Senser's] knowledge that she hit a person."

Nelson and Russell will argue their motions Monday during a court hearing. Jury selection begins a week later.

Senser has pleaded not guilty to the charges she struck Phanthavong at the Riverside Avenue exit ramp as he was filling his car with gas, then fled the scene. Nelson contends Senser unknowingly struck Phanthavong when she became lost en route to pick up her daughter from a concert at the Xcel Energy Center that night.

The next day, Nelson directed investigators to the damaged SUV parked in the garage of the Sensers' Edina home. Amy Senser said 10 days later that she had been the driver.

Nelson also presented a list of potential witnesses, including four unidentified juveniles, Joe Senser, attorney Marsh Halberg, eight doctors including Sponaugle and six character witnesses. Prosecutors filed a list of 42 potential witnesses, including multiple law enforcement officials, juveniles and others.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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