Reporting Esme Murphy
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Amy Senser’s appeal of her guilty verdict went before the Minnesota Court of Appeals Wednesday.
Senser was convicted almost exactly a year ago of criminal vehicular homicide in the death of Anousone Panthavong.
Senser’s defense attorney had argued that Senser never knew she hit Panthavong, who was filling his car with gas on a darkened exit ramp on 1nterestate 94 in August of 2011.
The prosecution argued that Senser was drunk on the night of the accident and said she intentionally fled the scene.
Amy Senser was not in court on Wednesday but her family and her husband, former Viking Joe Senser, was. Joe Senser sat in the front row at the hearing with his arms crossed for much of the debate. He did not comment after the hearing.
The family of Anousone Panthavong was also in attendance. Afterwards, his sister Vilayphone Panthavong said the family members felt they had to be there.
“I don’t want them to think that after the case is done we just don’t care about him. No, we do. it’s not that we want her in jail more or anything like that,” she said.
Senser’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, argued that the judge made a number of mistakes in the case, including not immediately revealing a note jurors wrote after the verdict saying jurors believed she knew she had hit a car that night.
The note, from the jury foreperson, asked the judge to read the following message to Senser in the courtroom. The note said, “We believe, she believed she hit a car or vehicle and not a person.” The defense argued that showed the jury was confused.
The Court of Appeals, however, questioned Nelson’s argument, wondering how that note would have made a difference in the case.
“The jury must have disbelieved her claim that she didn’t know that she struck either a vehicle or a person,” Judge Kevin Ross asked.
Nelson responded, “No, I do not agree with that at all, Your Honor, in so far that I believe that the jury’s note is indicative of the fact that they did in fact believe her when she testified.”
The judges repeatedly questioned the prosecutor about the judge’s failure to disclose the note.
“Wasn’t it abuse of discretion for the trial court judge instead of notifying attorneys about it to basically not to say a word about that until several days later?” Judge Margaret Chutich asked.
But Prosecutor Lee Barry said he did not believe it was abuse of discretion.
Senser is serving a 41-month sentence at the Women’s Prison in Shakopee, of which she’s served nine months so far. She is scheduled for supervised release in October of 2014.
Legal experts say it is very difficult to overturn a verdict and that the note shows jurors followed the jury instruction and the law.
The Court of Appeals has 90 days to make a ruling.