Amy Senser has shaved nearly six months off the time she must serve in prison for the hit-and-run death of a man on a Minneapolis exit ramp, state officials said Friday.
Senser applied for and was approved for transfer to a jail or halfway house for work release, meaning she can leave the Shakopee prison on April 24, less than two years after her incarceration began, said Department of Corrections (DOC) spokeswoman Sarah Latuseck.
Senser entered prison on July 9, 2012. Her release date from prison had been Oct. 20, 2014.
Once Oct. 20 arrives, Latuseck continued, Senser will be freed from her work release facility and then subject to supervised release until her 41-month sentence runs out Dec. 8, 2015.
Offenders on work release are only allowed to leave their facility for their employment and cannot visit family or make other stops while out for the day.
“We prosecuted the case, the judge sentenced her and corrections determines when she gets out,” said Chuck Laszewski, spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney’s office. “We have no objections to the Department of Corrections commissioner letting her out now.”
Senser, 47, of Edina, was convicted in the Aug. 23, 2011, death of 38-year-old Anousone Phanthavong, a popular chef at the now-closed True Thai restaurant in Minneapolis.
Phanthavong, who had just finished his shift at 11 p.m., was putting gas in his stalled car on the Riverside Avenue exit ramp of Interstate 94 when he was struck and killed by the SUV Senser was driving.
There were no witnesses, but his body, which was thrown 50 feet, was found on the ramp, along with pieces of Senser’s Mercedes-Benz. Senser has maintained that she didn’t know she had hit a person and that’s why she didn’t stop at the scene.
Latuseck said that she can’t address Senser’s case specifically, but that offenders on work release can seek employment after an orientation has been completed at the work release facility. Some already have a job lined up, but most do not, she said.
In general, Latuseck added, offenders who are found to be “at a low risk to reoffend through DOC assessments, complete programming directives, remain discipline-free and meet all other criteria are excellent work release candidates.”
There are about 200 offenders on work release in Minnesota at any given time, according to the DOC. Historically, fewer than 2 percent commit a new offense while on work release.
Offenders on work release are required to be employed and abstain from the use of “mood-altering substances,” according to the DOC. Offenders are under close supervision while in work-release facilities and are subject to random urinalysis and breathalyzer tests to detect chemical use.
Latuseck declined to say where Senser will be housed while under work release.
Senser’s attorney, Eric Nelson, declined to comment Friday on the change in how his client serves her time. Her husband, former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser, also declined to comment.
The two-week trial, which featured testimony by Amy Senser, Joe Senser and the couple’s teenage daughters, riveted the state as the couple for the first time publicly acknowledged from the witness stand the events leading up to the crash.
Senser claimed to have dropped her daughters off at a concert in downtown St. Paul and admitted having had half a glass of wine at a nearby restaurant before leaving early because of a migraine.
On the way home, she testified, she changed her mind, exited at Riverside and turned around to head back toward St. Paul when she became disoriented. Her daughters, unable to reach their mother, ultimately called their father to pick them up.
Amy Senser testified that she thought she hit a construction barrel or pothole when she heard a “clunk” on the ramp but decided to wait until she got home to check out the damage.
A jury didn’t believe Senser, and convicted her of two counts of criminal vehicular homicide — one for leaving the scene and a second for failing to call for help. She was acquitted of a third count alleging gross negligence.