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Amy Senser

Amy Senser

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Prosecution alleges Amy Senser said she drank that night

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS
  • Star Tribune
  • April 17, 2012 - 11:14 AM

Amy Senser admitted to a daughter that she was drinking the night she struck and killed a man on a Minneapolis freeway exit ramp last year, prosecutors alleged Monday during the final hearing before jury selection begins next week in her criminal vehicular homicide trial.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Deborah Russell offered no details about the revelation -- including when Senser allegedly made the admission or to which daughter. Her remark was in response to a motion by Senser's attorney, Eric Nelson, to dismiss a felony count -- a third -- filed against her last Friday. In the latest charge, prosecutors contend she was "grossly negligent" because she was allegedly speeding and talking on the phone when she struck Anousone Phanthavong, 38, as he was filling his stalled car with gas on the Riverside Avenue exit ramp on Aug. 23.

Senser was already facing two felony charges for leaving the scene of an accident and for failing to alert law enforcement about it as quickly as possible. Nelson claims she didn't know she struck a person when she hit Phanthavong and left.

District Judge Daniel Mabley denied the motion. He is to decide later this week on other motions argued during the hearing. Among them:

• Nelson moved to strike from evidence video clips by the Minnesota State Patrol that show pedestrian-vehicle crashes. He claimed they were not an accurate depiction of the crash, and that they could unduly influence the jury. Russell countered that they will be offered only to bolster and clarify Sgt. Paul Skoglund's status as an expert when he testifies.

• Nelson argued that Senser's refusal to speak to investigators should not be used against her by prosecutors because of her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. He claimed that investigators from the State Patrol and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were "imploring and begging" him to allow Senser to make a statement. And, he pointed out, when he directed the State Patrol to pick up the vehicle from Senser's Edina home, three lawyers were standing in the driveway.

Russell countered that Amy Senser did not admit to being the driver until more than a week later, leaving the State Patrol in limbo about who to seek out for a statement.

•Nelson also moved to strike from evidence a $7,500 estimate for body repair to Senser's sport-utility vehicle. The estimate, created only from analyzing photographs, is unfair because the vehicle, a Mercedes, was expensive and requires foreign parts. Russell countered that the estimate lends to the amount of force necessary to create the damage incurred when she struck Phanthavong, which would counter her claim she didn't know she hit someone. Russell suggested that the vehicle be brought to the courthouse for jurors to examine during trial.

•Nelson requested an order blocking testimony from Dr. Rick Spounagle, medical director of the Florida Detox and Wellness Institute, who allegedly had a telephone conversation with Joe Senser the morning after the crash. Russell said Spounagle would testify that the Sensers saw news of Phanthavong's death on television, and that Amy Senser told her husband she was in the area at the time. He also would testify that the Sensers went outside and looked at the Mercedes parked in the driveway, saw blood on the hood and "panicked." Like telephone calls to her brother requesting advice on attorneys, it lends credence that Senser knew she hit someone, Russell said.

•Russell moved to block a toxicology report from evidence that showed Phanthavong had cocaine in his system, arguing that it was irrelevant to the crash. Nelson contended the amount of cocaine in his system could have caused him to act erratically.

•Nelson moved to assert a "good faith reliance of counsel" defense, meaning that Senser was taking her attorney's advice when she declined to call police until the next morning, then did not speak to investigators. Russell countered that it would "gut" the state's case, and that Senser had a duty, regardless of whether she knew she had struck Phanthavong, to call police immediately the next morning when she saw the damage to her vehicle. Mabley ruled that if Amy Senser testifies, she can bring up her attorney's advice, but no one else can.

A key question is whether Amy Senser or her husband, former Minnesota Vikings star Joe Senser, will testify in her defense.

Senser has the right to take the stand, but neither she or her husband can be compelled to testify. Joe Senser was not in court Monday, although several members of Phanthavong's family watched with their attorney.

The family is suing the Sensers in a wrongful death lawsuit. Jury selection in Senser's criminal trial is scheduled to begin Monday, with opening arguments scheduled for sometime later in the week.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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