Amy Senser denied release during appeal - KMSP-TV

Judge harshly denies Amy Senser release during appeal

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

Amy Senser's request to be released from prison during her appeal has been denied, and Hennepin County Judge Daniel Mabley pulled no punches in his scathing order of denial on Wednesday.

Attorney Eric Nelson argued Senser should be released because she's not a flight risk and has strong ties to the community, but Mabley said that's not enough.

In the first part of his decision, Mabley ruled Nelson's request for her release was "procedurally defective," saying no written motion, notice or memorandum were ever filed.

Instead, Mabley found that Nelson merely argued that release factors existed without using facts to support his assertions about Senser in the event of a release.

Mabley also wrote that he does not believe that the defense has proven that Amy Senser would reappear in court if released, despite her attendance at all previous appearances.

"Having been convicted and committed to prison -- both results she had not been prepared for, she now poses a greater risk to not reappear should her appeal be denied," he said.

He also added that since incarcerated and convicted felons are rarely released on appeal, doing so for Senser could create a perception that she was "granted favors because of her celebrity and perceived economic status."

Senser has been in the Shakopee women's prison since July when she was sentenced to three years and five months for the hit-and-run death of Anousone Phanthavong on an Interstate 94 ramp in Minneapolis.

Cindy Phanthavong, the victim's niece, told FOX 9 News her family is glad Senser will remain in prison while her appeal continues.

"I'm glad she has been denied. She's only been in prison a month and a half and already she wants to get out?" she said. "I'm glad she is not out."

Mabley also said the defense failed to produce enough evidence to support the likelihood her appeal will succeed, calling the attempt "frivolous" and saying its purpose was solely to delay proceedings. 

Despite Mabley's view of the appeal's success, Nelson sent a statement to all media after the hearing saying only, "The defense is not surprised by the court's decision. We will vigorously respond in our filings with the Court of Appeals."

However, Mabley blasted several of the appeal tactics in his six-page memorandum criticizing the defense's strategy and response to the court's ruling.

The defense has objected to the court's instructions that allowed the jury to convict Senser based on proof of vehicle damage. Mabley argued that the state made it clear prosecutors would advocate for a standard requiring a driver to acknowledge that an accident causing damage creates a duty to stop. Furthermore, Mabley wrote that the defense consented to the instruction and even requested that language in an e-mail dated April 19.

The defense later argued the jury must have been confused when they followed the instructions, pointing to inadmissible juror statements about the reason for their verdict as evidence.

Mabley also contradicted the defense's claims that the court failed to disclose a note from jurors, saying it was simultaneously revealed to both the prosecutor and Nelson in a letter from the court. 

Joe Senser lambasted Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman for declining to disclose the jurors' note in a 16-minute statement he made to the media on Monday; however, Mabley said case law requires jurors to only speak through their verdict and the note would not have changed their decision.

Mabley also accused Joe Senser of misstating other facts about the case when he "left the courtroom during arguments in order to address the media and vent his accusations of incompetence and dishonesty on the part of the prosecution."

According to Mabley's memorandum on his denial, Joe Senser also inappropriately contacted jurors off the record with the intent to influence them while the lawyers were in court for a conference.

Mabley repeatedly said the defense tried to litigate much of the case in the media -- pointing to Joe Senser's statement as an example of trying to influence public opinion and, by extension, jurors.

While working to curry publicity, the defense also attempted to use the public's response to media coverage as justification for trying to change the venue of the trial, Mabley argues.

"The defense moved for a change of venue primarily based upon Internet postings of mostly unknown origin that were viewable everywhere else in the state ... and the world," Mabley wrote. "Thus there was no place in the state where such publicity would not have been accessible."

Mabley also said very few people in the jury pool were exposed or influenced by the pretrial publicity, saying a change of venue would only have delayed the trial and upped the expense.

Mabley's most stern rebuke of the defense came when he said the court is "not satisfied" with the assertion that Amy Senser would not interfere with the administration of justice based on the defense team's handling of the investigation and trial.

"The theme of the defense from day one has been avoidance of responsibility," he wrote.

Mabley accused Amy Senser and her defense team of hindering the investigation by arranging to leave town while her vehicle was seized, throwing away the clothing she wore that night, deleting text messages and changing her hair color.

He also said that Amy Senser's willingness to allow the press and law enforcement officers to speculate that her step daughter, Brittani Senser, may have been the driver in the crash shows she did not want to take responsibility and ultimately had to be coerced.

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