Give Senser the max, prosecutor asks

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 5, 2012 - 11:13 PM

Request for a 57-month sentence cites "hollow excuses" for fatal crash.

Amy Senser
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Amy Senser

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Amy Senser has displayed only "hollow excuses," not remorse, for the hit-and-run crash last August that killed a popular chef and deserves the maximum-allowable sentence of nearly five years in prison, a prosecutor argued Thursday in response to a defense motion requesting leniency.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Deborah Russell's memorandum claims that Senser tried to downplay her responsibility for the Aug. 23 crash that killed Anousone Phanthavong, 38, of Roseville. She urged Judge Daniel Mabley to sentence Senser to 57 months following her conviction in May on two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide -- one for leaving the scene, another for failing to call for help.

Senser, 45, of Edina, is scheduled for sentencing Monday. State guidelines call for 41 to 57 months in prison.

Senser "has not shown remorse for her criminal choice to drive away after crashing into Mr. Phanthavong. She has not shown remorse for her choice not to call 911 immediately after the crash, and she has not shown remorse for her choice not to report the crash the next day -- even after she realized that she had killed Mr. Phanthavong and for 10 additional days thereafter," Russell wrote. "Instead, [the] defendant has continually minimized her criminal choices with hollow excuses."

The memo was filed in response to motions filed Monday by Senser's attorney, Eric Nelson, who said she was "deeply remorseful" for striking and killing Phanthavong, and "heartbroken" for his family.

Nelson asked Mabley for a "downward departure," or less than the recommended prison time, by sentencing Senser to probation. He cited her lack of a criminal record, support from family and friends, and community involvement. The request was backed by 113 letters from Senser's relatives and friends, who wrote to the judge that prison time would be of little use for the mother of two teenagers, as opposed to probation and community service.

But Russell argued that Senser's own husband, Joe Senser, testified that her "nature to behave unpredictably" -- something he dubbed "Amy World" -- would make her unlikely to "follow the strict requirements of probation."

Crash area debated

Senser's claims -- key among them, that she thought she struck a construction cone or barrel, not a person -- "strain the bounds of believability," according to Russell.

"The law, and common decency, required Defendant to at least stop and investigate what she hit. Yet Defendant attempts to excuse her choice not to stop by saying it was dark and that she was in a "bad area of town" -- which must come as a shock to the Augsburg and University of Minnesota students who live and study in the area."

Russell's memo claims Senser did not take responsibility when she told a probation officer during a presentence investigation that she was "wrongly convicted" and at most should have been charged with a misdemeanor. Senser was also convicted of misdemeanor careless driving.

Nelson's motion claimed Senser's conviction violated equal protection laws, citing the case of Mark Lindgren, who was sentenced to three months in the workhouse for a fatal 2010 hit-and-run accident in which he struck an elderly woman and left the scene, then turned himself in days later. Nelson claimed Senser was unfairly charged under a more serious statute than Lindgren, a claim Russell called "wrongheaded" because Lindgren's victim was partly at fault for walking in front of his car, while Senser "caused" Phanthavong's death and left the scene.

Nelson also requested that Senser be sentenced for the two counts concurrently, rather than consecutively. Russell countered that according to Minnesota law, Mabley may only sentence Senser on a single count, whichever is the more serious of the two.

Although judges tend to stay within state sentencing guidelines, they are allowed to make departures for length of a sentence or when it comes to the difference between probation and prison time. Any time within the recommended guidelines will likely be upheld if the case is appealed.

Defense attorney Joseph Tamburino, who watched most of Senser's trial and has tried cases before Mabley, said that although Russell's request for a "top-of-the-box" sentence of 57 months is more likely to be granted than the downward departure Nelson requested, he believes Mabley likely will stick with a "middle-of-the- box" sentence of around 48 to 50 months.

"I think the judge is going to do the average thing. She was tried, she was convicted," he said, adding that he believed Senser showed remorse. "There's nothing compelling about the case that would warrant giving her less time or more time. It's average. Period."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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Amy Senser