Reporting Esme Murphy
MINNEAPOLIS (AP/WCCO) – The jury in the Amy Senser case has finished deliberating for Tuesday night without reaching a verdict, and will get together again at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
A jury had spent six hours on Tuesday deliberating on the crucial questions of whether the wife of a former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser knew she had struck and killed a stalled motorist on a freeway exit ramp — and when she knew it.
The prosecutor told the jury not to believe the woman’s claim that she didn’t know she hit someone. The defense rested its case Tuesday morning in the trial of 45-year-old Amy Senser, and closing arguments began shortly thereafter.
Prosecutor Deborah Russell said in her closing argument Tuesday that evidence shows Senser must have known she hit a man last August near a freeway exit ramp in Minneapolis.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Russell. “She’s counting on you to take her at her word.”
Russell reminded jurors of deleted cell phone text messages on Aug. 23 and 24, she also reminded jurors of inconsistencies in Senser’s testimony compared to a sworn affidavit taken in February.
The prosecution also argued that turning in the Mercedes SUV to Senser’s attorney the next day is “not providing notice of an accident,” and “is not the quickest means of communication.” She was referring to the second count of criminal vehicular homicide that deals with failure to notify.
“The evidence in this case demonstrates she knew she hit Mr. Phanthavong at the time she hit him,” Russell said.
Russell reminded jurors of testimony about Senser’s daughter asking her if she had been drinking that night.
Russell ended her closing argument with a reference to “Amy World.” She said, “This isn’t Amy World, this is the real world and we ask you to find the defendant guilty on all counts.”
Eric Nelson, Senser’s attorney began his closing arguments reminding jurors that Senser is innocent until proven guilty and one of the questions before them is whether she knew hit a person, “not if she should have known,” he said.
He argued the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she knew she hit Phanthavong and said the fact that there weren’t skidmarks at the accident scene shows she didn’t realize.
Nelson also argued that Senser is not guilty of careless driving because she was driving the speed limit, never left her lane of traffic and was not talking on her cell phone at the time.
The careless driving charge could be the biggest problem for the defense because it does not require that Senser knew that she hit Phanthavong.
Nelson also argued that prosecutors tried to make an example of her because she and her husband, a former Minnesota Vikings player, are public figures.
“Amy Senser is a public figure. Joe Senser is a public figure. We want to make an example (of them),” Nelson said.
The prosecution and defense also sparred on the issue of alcohol. The prosecution said a motorist testified that Senser was seen driving erratically on I-94 that night and Senser’s own daughter told a friend that her mother may have been drinking that night.
The defense stressed that none of the witnesses who saw Senser that night thought she was drunk.
Amy Senser is charged with three felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide plus a misdemeanor count of careless driving stemming from the Aug. 23 incident. To get a conviction on the first felony count, the prosecution had to prove that she knew she hit a person. On the second count, the prosecution needed to prove that not only did she know she struck someone but that she failed to report it as soon as reasonably possible. The third requires the jury to conclude she acted with gross negligence, not just ordinary negligence.
If she’s convicted one or all of the felony counts, the state’s sentencing guidelines recommend a prison sentence of four years. The misdemeanor count carries a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Hennepin County District Judge Daniel Mabley gave the case to the seven-man, five-woman jury just after 12:30 p.m. CDT. If the jurors don’t reach a verdict Tuesday, they’ll be sequestered until they do. They are expected to deliberate into the evening.
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The question had to do with count 1.
That’s the big question in this case.
To find Senser guilty of it, jurors need to agree with prosecutors that she knew she hit someone that night last August.
Tonight the jury asked the judge when Senser needed to know she hit someone.
The judge told them right when the accident happened, or immediately after.