Amy Senser

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune


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Minnesota Supreme Court denies Amy Senser's final bid for freedom

  • Article by: Abby Simons
  • Star Tribune
  • September 18, 2013 - 5:43 AM

The Minnesota Supreme Court will not consider Amy Senser’s final bid for freedom, ending the saga that began with a man’s hit-and-run death on a darkened Minneapolis freeway ramp two years ago and culminated in a prison term for the wife of an ex-Minnesota Vikings player.

“Based upon all the files, records, and proceedings herein, it is hereby ordered that the petition of Amy Margaret Senser for further review be, and the same is, denied,” Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote in the one-sentence order released Tuesday that ends the attempts to overturn Senser’s convictions for criminal vehicular homicide.

Senser, 47, will remain at the women’s prison in Shakopee until at least October 2014, when she is scheduled for supervised release from her prison term of 3½ years for the death of 38-year-old Anousone Phanthavong, a popular chef at Minneapolis’ True Thai restaurant.

Senser’s attorney, Eric Nelson, declined to comment.

Phanthavong, who had just finished his shift at True Thai at 11 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2011, was putting gas in his stalled car on the Riverside Avenue exit ramp of Interstate 94 when he was struck and killed by a vehicle that drove off. There were no witnesses to the collision, but his body, which was thrown 50 feet, was found on the ramp, along with pieces of a Mercedes-Benz sport-utility vehicle.

The next day, Nelson contacted authorities, who seized the SUV from the Sensers’ Edina home. The identity of the driver was unknown by authorities until Amy Senser came forward nine days later, under pressure from her stepdaughter Brittani Senser, according to testimony from her 2012 trial.

The two-week trial, which featured testimony by Amy Senser, her husband, 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 Avenue 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 tearfully testified that she thought she hit a construction barrel or pothole when she heard a “clunk” on the freeway ramp but decided to wait until she got home to check out the damage.

“I don’t know how you wouldn’t know you had hit somebody,” she sobbed on the witness stand during her trial. “I just never saw him. It just couldn’t have been me.”

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.

The day after her conviction, the Sensers settled a wrongful-death case with Phanthavong’s family for an undisclosed amount of money.

When Senser was sentenced to 41 months in prison, Judge Daniel Mabley acknowledged her remorse but said it wasn’t the same as accepting responsibility.

Senser argued her case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which acknowledged missteps by Mabley — by allowing hearsay testimony by a State Patrol investigator and by not immediately disclosing the jury’s post-verdict note that said: “We believe [Senser] believed she hit a car or vehicle and not a person.”

However, they weren’t enough to outweigh the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that supported the jury’s verdicts, the court ruled.

At True Thai restaurant, owner Anna Prasomphol Fieser, who attended the court hearings and publicly vouched for her employee’s character after his death — was busy in the kitchen Tuesday night. She hadn’t heard the news that the two years of legal proceedings had come to an end.

“She’ll be glad to hear it,” a worker said. “We all will be.”

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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