Verdict: Amy Senser guilty of criminal vehicular homicide - KMSP-TV

Jury finds Amy Senser guilty of fleeing, failing to report, careless driving

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

The jury reached a verdict in the Amy Senser trial shortly after 2:30 p.m. on Thursday after days of deliberation.

At 3:10 p.m., they announced convictions on three of the four charges she faced in the hit-and-run crash that killed Twin Cities chef Anousone Phanthavong.


JUMP TO: Sentencing | Defense response | Jury experience


"We are very satisfied that justice was done," said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Senser has not been taken into custody, and will remain free on bail until sentencing on July 9 -- but her attorney also announced they do plan to appeal.

Below, you can find how the charges relate to the crash and how the arguments of both the prosecution and defense played out.

COUNT 1: Felony Criminal Vehicular Homicide - Fleeing the Scene of an Accident [GUILTY]

Defense attorney Eric Nelson argued there is no proof Amy Senser knew she hit a person, so she couldn't possibly have fled.

Senser testified in her own defense, saying she did not see Anousone Phanthavong and does not recall seeing his Honda Accord on the side of the ramp with its emergency flashers on.

Yet, prosecutor Deborah Russell argues Senser knew she hit something -- and she had to know it was worthy of her attention because of the severity of the crash.

She cited Phanthavong's injuries and the damage to Senser's SUV, saying they show the impact would have been significant. She argued that any reasonable or unimpaired driver should have stopped.

"I think, if you're driving a car and you have an accident, the state Legislature and I think you have a duty to stop," Freeman said after the verdict was announced. "The law says you have to report as quickly as possibly by the means of communication most readily available -- in this case, a cell phone."

COUNT 2: Felony Criminal Vehicular Homicide - Failure to Notify [GUILTY]

The defense says the Sensers did notify law enforcement when they turned the SUV over to Minnesota State Patrol investigators the next day.

Joe Senser quickly figured out the damage did not look like it came from a barrel or cone and quickly associated it with the fatal crash. They turned over the vehicle with the full stipulation this it was involved.

The prosecution argued that simply turning over the SUV does not qualify as notifying police -- especially since Amy Senser did not come forward as the driver of that vehicle for ten days, and only did so after her step-daughter Brittani, threatened to tell.

COUNT 3: Felony Criminal Vehicular Homicide - Gross Negligence [NOT GUILTY]

Nelson told the jurors this there is no evidence Senser was either intoxicated or on the phone at the time of the crash, and he told jurors that she did not drive out of her traffic lane

Phone records show Senser made a call at 11:08 p.m., just 8 seconds before the first 911 call. Therefore, it appears she made that call after the impact, not before.

The damage to her vehicle indicates she was driving right down the middle of the exit lane.

Prosecutor Russell argued Senser should have seen Phanthavong, and she presented evidence that he would have been directly in her headlights.

Russell also pointed to the testimony of the 911 callers, who said they immediately noticed his hazard lights -- along with Phanthavong's body about 50 feet down the ramp. They had no difficulty slowing down or moving to avoid either.

Nelson says Senser's actions after the accident -- which include driving home, parking in the driveway and falling asleep on the front porch --- are not those of a guilty person. Russell, however, characterized the behavior as typical of someone who is intoxicated and went home to pass out.

Russell also says Senser's further acts -- which include deleting her text messages from that night and the next day, giving her clothes away, and changing her hair color -- all appear like a guilty person trying to avoid prosecution.

Nelson returned to the fact that there is no direct proof. Senser herself testified that she often deleted text messages and she no longer wanted to have the clothes from a traumatic night.

COUNT 4: Gross Misdemeanor - Careless Driving [GUILTY]

The judge also told jurors they can consider a lesser charge of careless driving. This is considered count four. The three elements are required for a conviction on that charge are:

  1. She operated a vehicle on a street or highway.
  2. She operated it carelessly or heedlessly.
  3. This took place on or around August 23, 2011.

Sentencing guidelines

The lesser charge of careless driving carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail. The two felony charges could carry a sentence of up to four years in prison.

Sentencing will take place on July 9; however, Senser's attorney said he does not believe that prison time is not inevitable.

Nelson estimated a 48-month sentence could be applied, but he plans to ask the court to opt against any prison time.

Senser was not taken into custody after the verdict was read. She will remain free on bail until she is sentenced.

Defense response

Nelson also spoke after the verdict was announced, and said he felt his client got a fair trial.

"I don't fault the jurors and I don't fault the system," defense attorney Eric Nelson said. "I don't think this is a miscarriage of justice."

In a press conference following the verdict's announcement, Nelson said he does plan to appeal -- especially on the second count of failing to notify. He still contends that turning over the vehicle to police satisfies the obligation to report as required by law, saying drivers are not specifically required to identify themselves.

Nelson also admitted that he is disappointed with the jurors' decision, but said he was unsure he could have presented the case differently. He also speculated that the length of the deliberations indicated disagreement within the jury.

Jurors' experience

After hearing one of the most high-profile cases in recent history, the sequestered jury labored over their decision while living in a nearby hotel. They were bussed to and from the courthouse. They lived and ate as a group under the constant supervision of Hennepin County deputies, who swore oaths to guard them.

FOX 9 News reporter Rob Olson said the jurors looked glum after reaching their decision, with one female juror dabbing tears from her eyes as she entered the courtroom.

"On behalf of the family, I would like to say thank you to the jury," said the attorney for Anousone Phanthavong's, Jim Ballentine. "That jury worked extremely hard, and I was amazed at the note-taking and the level of intensity -- and obviously, they worked hard after the trial was done."

Ballentine added that the family is thankful that justice was served.

Nelson also acknowledged that the trial was stressful and taxing on all parties, including the jury.

"It's an emotional process for everyone involved -- not just for the Sensers or the Phanthavong family, for the jurors as well."

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