Amy Senser opening statements: Senser will testify during trial

Amy Senser will testify in her defense
Amy Senser will testify in her defense

Amy Senser will testify during her trial on criminal vehicular homicide charges, her defense attorney revealed during opening statements.

Prosecutor Deborah Russell and defense attorney Eric Nelson kept their opening arguments brief this afternoon, with each side presenting a bare outline of their cases.

Russell revealed that Joe Senser's daughter from a previous marriage, Brittani Senser, prompted Amy to reveal herself to authorities as the driver who killed Anousone Phanthavong last August. Brittani was concerned that she was a suspect in the case so she called Nelson September 1 and said he should tell the State Patrol who was driving that night "or I will."

Russell laid out the evening of August 23 for jurors: Phanthavong's car ran out of gas on the Riverside exit of I-94 around 11 p.m.

While he was filling the car with gas, he was struck and killed by an unknown vehicle. At 11:09 p.m., the first 911 call came, followed by another, and one more.

The next day, a woman named Molly Kelly contacted the State Patrol to say that she had been driving westbound on I-94 when she noticed an SUV "driving erratically" and weaving between lanes. Kelly noticed the driver had shoulder-length blonde hair blowing in the wind.

That night, at 10:30 p.m., Nelson called the State Patrol to turn over custody of the Senser family SUV.

The next day, the Hennepin County Crime Lab began processing the vehicle. Police did not yet know who the driver had been.

On August 30, a state trooper met Senser to get her phone information and credit card numbers. On September 2, the state executed search warrants to recover the phones.

Senser's stepdaughter, Brittani, became concerned that she was a suspect, so she called Nelson September 1 and urged him to reveal Amy as the driver. The next day, Amy sent a notarized statement to police.

Representatives from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will testify about Senser's cellphone records that night and explain how they establish her whereabouts that evening.

They will also testify that text messages were deleted from Amy's phone.

Jurors will see photos of the scene, Russell said, and hear testimony from Amy Senser's daughters and their friends that Amy was supposed to pick the girls up at a Katy Perry concert in St. Paul but didn't.

In his statement, Senser's attorney, Eric Nelson, thanked the jurors and then said Phanthavong's death was "without doubt" tragic.

Mike Freeman listened as prosecutor Deborah Russell exchanged opening statements with defense attorney Eric Nelson
Mike Freeman listened as prosecutor Deborah Russell exchanged opening statements with defense attorney Eric Nelson

But, Nelson said, that isn't the primary issue in this case.

To prove its case in counts one and two of criminal vehicular homicide, Nelson said, the state must prove that Senser knew she hit a person or another vehicle that night.

Nelson said he was confident the jury would find that she "did not know she hit a person," and said the evidence would prove it.

The Senser family plan for the evening was as follows: Amy would work that afternoon in Uptown, from 2 to 6:30, and Joe Senser would take their two daughters and two friends to the Xcel Energy Center for a Katy Perry concert.

Amy would head over, buy a scalped ticket, and check out the show. That plan was "essentially followed," Nelson said: Amy went to the Xcel Energy Center and bought a ticket.

Then she left.

The reason she left, Nelson said, is that she has migraines and had recently been diagnosed with a severe sinus infection by a doctor.

Amy will testify, Nelson said, that she was at the concert and decided to leave as a result of the headaches.

"That decision was tragic," Nelson said.

But Amy will explain to the jury what she saw and felt at the Riverside exit that night. The lighting was dark, Nelson said, due to heavy construction. The overhead lights weren't operational.

The reason Amy was exiting at the Riverside exit, Nelson said, is that she'd decided to return to the Xcel Energy Center and pick up the girls. She called her daughter to say she'd be outside, Nelson said.

At around 11:30, the calls to Senser's phone began. Jurors will hear testimony, Nelson said, that Amy "sounded like she was lost," which she was due to all the construction.

Joe picked up the girls at the concert instead. The girls will testify that there was no talk of an accident, no tension or feeling that there was something wrong.

When the Sensers and friends arrived home, they found Amy's Mercedes parked in the driveway. One of the girls had a conversation with Amy on the porch.

All of that, Nelson said, points to the conclusion that Senser had "no idea" she was in an accident with a person.

Joe Senser did not attend the opening day of his wife's trial. Testimony will begin tomorrow at 9 a.m.

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