Amy Senser jury may have been confused; defense wants convictions overturned

Categories: Law
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In an appeal filing, Senser's attorney argues the jury was confused when convicting her of two felonies.
Amy Senser's jurors may have misunderstood their instructions when convicting her of two counts of criminal vehicular homicide, prompting defense attorney Eric Nelson to ask that the convictions be thrown out.

At the heart of Nelson's contention is a note jurors sent to Hennepin County Judge Daniel Mabley just before her verdict was read on May 3. That note, which wasn't read in court, said, "We believe, [Senser] believed she hit a car or vehicle and not a person."

The glaring problem with the note is that during the trial, no evidence was presented that Senser hit a car. Senser didn't deny that she ran over and killed Anousone Phanthavong last August, but said she initially thought she'd struck a construction barricade, not a person. So why in God's name would jurors write a note stating they believe she thought she struck a vehicle if they were paying attention to the trial?
As the Star Tribune reports, according to the jury instructions in Senser's case, convictions for the two counts of criminal vehicular homicide required "that the defendant knew the accident involved either injury or death to another person or damage to another vehicle."

The jury apparently didn't believe that Senser knew she struck a person, and again, no evidence was presented suggested Senser struck a vehicle. So Nelson argues jurors were confused about their instructions when convicting her of two felonies.

Nelson, in his appeal filing, wrote:
In Ms. Senser's case there was no reason to instruct the jury that Ms. Senser knew she hit a vehicle; this is simply not the offense she was charged with. Further, because there was no evidence that Ms. Senser did hit a vehicle, it would be impossible to establish knowledge for that element as one cannot have actual knowledge of doing something he or she did not do.
Nelson also cites an interview juror Anthony Sather did with KARE 11. When Sather was asked if he thought Senser knew she hit a person, he said, "I couldn't tell you. I mean, it's, it was borderline, the evidence from the defense and the prosecutor; you could have gone either way."

In the filing, Nelson asks Hennepin County judges to throw out the jury's verdict; failing that, he requests a new trial, one in which the jury will hopefully better understand its instructions.

According to sentencing guidelines, Senser's convictions call for her to spend four years in prison. She's currently scheduled to be sentenced on July 9.

Previous coverage:
-- Amy Senser found guilty of two felonies, not guilty of gross negligence
-- Joe Senser loses cool, tells photographers to "get a life"
-- Joe Senser on "Amyworld": Flaking out on picking up kids reflects her 'fierce independence'

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24 comments
Jensen56
Jensen56

woudnt Amy hear the man scream when she Hit HIM! was she to scared and drove away!

Pierce Thompson McFatty
Pierce Thompson McFatty

The Sensers did not turn the vechicle in for 24 hrs and did not say who was driving for 7 days.Of course Amy Senser knew she hit someone,her actions prove it.Upsidedown world.If you see the Sensers on the street,spit on themThe Sensers are scum

Stormesweet
Stormesweet

Hello everyone - This post is to correct my statement in an earlier post that AS's vehicle has whiskey plates in the KSTP photo.  I've been told that whiskey plates always start with a "W" in the license number.  If this is true, it means that the plates on AS's are not whiskey plates.  I didn't mean to spread misinformation, and I am sorry for doing so.  I stand corrected!   

Stormesweet
Stormesweet

i just noticed that the Amy Senser evidence photos on the KSTP-TV website show her vehicle has "drunk driver plates", but the Star Tribune cropped the plates out of the picture.  It's nauseating to see how the Strib and WCCO try to manipulate the public by concealing information implying guilt and spew warm fuzzies concerning her character.

If AS's attorney gets the jury's decision overtuned, evidence" I hope she gets a more savvy jury,  One that understands that circumstantial evidence can be just as valid as direct eyewitness accounts.  I want to tear my hair out every time a jury member is interviewed and says that they didn't convict because there was "only" circumstantial evidence.    

Michael Fraase
Michael Fraase

Amy Senser was convicted of causing a fatal accident and leaving the scene, causing a fatal accident and failing to promptly report it (both felonies and criminal vehicular homicide charges), and careless driving (a misdemeanor). She was acquitted of gross negligence (a felony).

Minnesota law allows for up to 10 years in prison on each of the two felonies, but guidelines point to a 4 year sentence.

Does anyone actually believe that she didn't cause a fatal accident, leave the scene, and fail to report it timely? Those are the crimes for which she was convicted.

The only question I have -- still -- is why wasn't Amy Senser jailed immediately after trial? I maintain it's because she's rich and white and from Edina.

Assuming that we have the whole story -- never a safe bet in these towns any more -- Eric Nelson is an idiot for not cutting his client's losses. Four years give or take is a gift.

JonnyBeGood
JonnyBeGood

F*ck it, burn her at the stake - this goose is wicked evil and she is a slut, allegedly. 

vitajex
vitajex

Ah, semantics- the last bastion of rat finks...

From the STrib article:"According to the jury instructions in Senser's case, a conviction for the first two counts of criminal vehicular homicide required 'that the defendant knew the accident involved either injury or death to another person or damage to another vehicle.'"

Note that it says "or damage to another vehicle". So the jury's (admittedly goofy) note does NOTHING to change the fact that the jury believed the defendant knew the accident had occurred.The fact that they were confused about whether it was a car or a person is essentially immaterial.  The REALLY sad thing about this is, due to the confabulations of the law constructed by the average sociopathic dick who gets into that field, this could potentially work in Senser's favor.

Too bad it won't change the verdict of guilty that's been soundly issued by the court of public opinion. The money may or may not keep her out of jail, but it definitely will help when the Sensers have to relocate to avoid the stigma they've got on them now.

Patchy
Patchy

Was any evidence presented about these whiskey plates at trial?  If she had a previous drunk driving conviction, I would certainly expect that would have been mentioned, and I don't think it was.  What incentive would the Star Tribune or any other news agency have to cover that up??

Also, when I first heard about this, I assumed AS was drunk.  But to my knowledge, no evidence was presented about this.  She said she had a drink (or half of one) at a restaurant.  If she'd been lying about that, you would think the state could have proved it with receipts or eyewitness testimony.  But there was no one that came forward that said they saw her drinking.  Unless she was drinking alone in her car (admittedly, a possibility), it doesn't seem likely to me that she was drunk.

SarahinMpls
SarahinMpls

 I agree that a big unanswered (and obvious question the media failed to address) is why she wasn't immediately taken into custody after the trial.

Idiot Eric Nelson.  I couldn't agree more.  From the get-go when he first talked to media I concluded she had a dope representing her.  IMO, waiting 10 days to name her as the driver is grounds for malpractice.

Tilleena
Tilleena

Barbecue the bee-otch, slowly

green23
green23

This changes nothing. The mere fact that Senser's attorney thinks it does speaks volumes about Senser's 'regret'. She regrets that she got convicted. She regrets that her lies were insufficient to avoid conviction. And, when presented with a possible "out", she desperately seizes it to avoid responsibility for her actions. In her mind, she is the victim here.

I think that the presence of blood on the car should have been a hint that she she hit a person -- at least when she sobered up enough to examine the expensive vehicle that never left the garage for the nine days it took her to come forward.

No insurance claim. Not even a peek from an insurance adjuster. It's almost as if they knew something ugly happened and were desperately trying to get their lies straight. It certainly doesn't sound like the behaviour of someone who thought they hit a pothole or a cone, much less another vehicle. Why conceal that, especially since Amy was "sober", right?

Stormesweet
Stormesweet

Responding to your comment "The money may or may not keep her out of jail, but it definitely will help when the Sensers have to relocate to avoid the stigma they've got on them now." 

AS doesn't seem like someone who'll experience stigma the way most people would.  Most people feel hurt when the're stigmatized, but AS will experience the emotion of self-pity, and will manipulate her cronies into feeling angry toward the people she perceives as not in her corner.  I doubt she's even considered the life she took. All she can think of is ME, ME, ME, ME, ME. She's curiously tearless except when she feels cornered into facing the consequences of her actions.  Sociopaths don't feel guilt, so she has no shame. 

Patch
Patch

Well, the legal standard isn't that she knew the accident had occurred.  She admitted that she knew she hit something, but that's not enough to be found guilty of vehicular homicide.  The criminal conviction requires that she knew she hit a person or a vehicle.  The prosecutors never argued that she hit a vehicle, and she *didn't* actually hit a vehicle.  So it certainly does matter if the jury was confused about what they were supposed to be doing/finding.  This is a horribly sad story with one life tragically lost and many lives affected forever.  It's heartwarming though that you're delighting in the fact that this woman and her family will be forever tarred by this, even if it was a mistake of distracted driving (with an inarguably horrible result).

Stormesweet
Stormesweet

Patch, thank you very much for alerting me to the fact that AS's vehicle plates are not whiskey plates.  I stand corrected!

Stormesweet
Stormesweet

As to the motivation the media would have to crop the plates out of the picture, I can only speculate that they did this out of some sort of personal affiliation with the Senser's. Didn't Joe Senser use to work for WCCO radio?  The reason I've been following this case so closely is that I was disturbed by the WCCO-TV's unabashed trashing of the victim and portraying Amy Senser as the victim.  They did this through the selective exclusion of information reflecting negatively on AS.  Esme Murphy (WCCO-TV) even penned an article in the Strib advising the public to remember that AS's life is also changed forever and that we shouldn't jump to conclusions that she's guilty.  She wrote about how Amy spoke Spanish (she's no white snob), 'CCO warmly portrayed her family (you can't put her away - she's got children) but they didn't speak to the humanity of the victim whatsoever.  Up until the trial, the Strib and 'CCO reported to the effect that the victim was an immigrant, he had cocaine in his system, he had no family, he worked in a restaurant.  This changed a great deal after the victim's friends rallied to his memory, and as the trial progressed they quit fawing over AS and did a more balanced job of reporting.

Stormesweet
Stormesweet

To the best of my knowledge, the prosecution didn't mention the "drunk driver plates".  My guess is this is due to the judge's denial the prosecution's request to discuss AS's past drinking habits.  I would expect that this past behavior would include the drunk plates.  The media did report that that this request was made and denied, and there was no more talk of it, until she admitted to having a drink the night of the accident.  Seriously, check out the KSTP pics of AS's dented up vehicle.  I don't know if WCCO was the only media outlet that cropped the plates out of the picture or not. 

Patchy
Patchy

But they led police to the car the day after the accident, if I'm not mistaken.  And they obviously knew the next day that something ugly had happened.  Again, if I hit a cone or pothole, I would most likely keep driving.  If, the next day, I found out that I very likely hit a person, you can bet I would call a lawyer (and the police--which, again, I think the Sensers did).  

green23
green23

 "even if it was a mistake of distracted driving"

Seriously?

It wasn't that it took her nine days to come forward, eliminating any possibility of a drug test. It wasn't that her "story" leapt from from one lie to another, ultimately ending up as "I don't know what happened". It wasn't that the victim was viciously slandered, nor that the implication was that he deserved to die. It wasn't that they didn't file an insurance claim for damage to an expensive vehicle for mysterious reasons. I'm sure nobody noticed the blood. It wasn't that she had a history of drunk driving, nor that she was spotted driving erratically.

Yeah, it's just a case of distracted driving. The real tragedy is that Amy was inconvenienced by the death of some lowlife. I mean, she cried, right? What more could people ask for? Who hasn't killed some stranger, driven off, and lied about it?

Stormesweet
Stormesweet

If distracted driving was her only error, this case would not have gone to trial.  It went to trial because of everything she did after the accident - and she did quite a bit - before she started crying that she had no idea what happened.  

The other thing I'd like to point out is that I don't think people are "relishing" the Sensers' troubles.  What you're reading are viewpoints from people who are frustrated when a person lies and abuses the system for their own gain - especially when it results in an innocent person's death. 

   

Patch
Patch

Ok, I did check out the KSTP pictures, and those aren't whiskey plates.  The drunk driver license plates all start with "W."  The one on the Sensers' car is a Minnesota Sesquicentennial special plate.

JonnyBeGood
JonnyBeGood

 if you hit a pot hole, and your light went out, and you could see visible damage wouldn't you have pulled over?  Failing that, when you got home wouldn't you think crap, I forgot to pick up the kids?  And then, when you handed the car over, wouldn't you hand the drivers name over at the same time?  This is a well executed avoidance of responsibility.  In fact, why aren't the Senser's charged with prevent the course of justice, when they know she was the driver, but never admitted it till ten day s after?

Patchy
Patchy

If she knew she hit someone and she drove off anyway, that would be horrible, and that's the crime that she was charged with.  The jury said they believed she hit a vehicle, which she didn't.  The key question, legally, is whether she knew at the time that she kept driving that she had hit a person.  The jury didn't think she did.  The taking forever to come forward was obviously the lawyer's decision, and I think it was a terrible one, but a lawyer having a dumb legal strategy doesn't mean she knew AT THE TIME she was driving that she hit someone.  I didn't see all the evidence (and neither did any of you), but on a dark ramp, if you're not looking straight ahead, and there are construction barrels and blinking lights, it certainly seems possible to me that you would think you hit a barrel (which is what she claimed).  You don't expect a person to be in the driving lane of an off-ramp in the middle of the night.

Did her story leap from one lie to another?  Not from what I've read.  I believe she said from the time that she actually said what she thought happened that she thought she hit a barrel or a pothole.  

I'm not sure why not filing an insurance claim has anything to do with anything.  They'd already told the police about the accident.  And I'm guessing if they HAD filed a claim, they would be accused of being callous for having the gall to be worried about their luxury SUV.

Look, this is a horrible story.  I don't know if she knew she hit a person or not.  But I can certainly imagine a set of circumstances where she didn't know, and the jury--which heard ALL the evidence--didn't believe she hit a person, either.

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