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The hearsay testimony from Sgt. Daniel Beasley involved transcript of his interview with Dr. Marvin Sponaugle, who said Joe Senser told him the morning after the accident that the Sensers saw blood on the sport-utility vehicle she was driving that night.
The Appeals Court ruled the statement should not have been admitted at trial.
However, Sponaugle’s statement, which was a single page of 1,200 pages of trial testimony, was harmless to Senser, the court reasoned.
Secondly, although Mabley should have immediately disclosed the jury’s note to the defense and prosecution in open court, it did not affect the jury’s verdicts.
Nelson argued that the note exposed a flaw in jury instructions, in which they were told to decide whether she knew she caused injury, death “or damage to another vehicle.”
A duty to stop
It didn’t matter, the Appeals Court ruled, because under the law Senser still had a duty to stop, regardless of what the members of the jury believed.
“Some members of the jury could have concluded that Senser saw [Phanthavong’s] car in her rearview mirror after the collision and concluded that she struck the car, while others could have thought that she knew she hit [Phanthavong] himself,” Chutich wrote. “The jury was not required to agree on whether Senser knew she hit a person or a vehicle, because hitting either would have imposed a duty upon her to stop.”
Joe Daly, professor emeritus at Hamline University School of Law, agrees that the Minnesota Supreme Court is unlikely to hear Senser’s case, but believes it should.
He said some questions, including the jury note and instructions, did not appear to be fully answered in the Appeals Court opinion.
“It’s kind of sad, because this case, to me, raised a lot of interesting questions,” he said. “If the jury didn’t believe that she hit a person, then how could she be convicted of a crime that she knew she hit a person?”
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921