MINNEAPOLIS - Amy Senser's lawyers have filed a formal appeal of her conviction for criminal vehicular homicide.
The wife of former Minnesota Vikings tight end and restaurant owner Joe Senser was sent to prison in July, after being convicted in the hit-and-run death of Minneapolis chef Anousone Phanthavong.
In a brief filed on Wednesday at the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Senser's attorney Eric Nelson argues there wasn't enough evidence to prove she knew she struck a person. He asserts that's the legal standard in Minnesota for finding someone guilty of criminal vehicular homicide, based Supreme Court precedent.
Senser's shot at winning a new trial may rest on whether jurors knew what legal standards they were supposed to apply in determining her innocence or guilt. Statements jurors made to the media after the trial ended in May are included in the 50-page brief and the 634-page appendix.
Among them is an interview juror Anthony Sather granted KARE 11 after the verdict. When asked by reporter Allen Costantini whether the jury believed Senser knew she hit a person, Sather had this to say:
"I couldn't tell you," Sather said at the time. "It was borderline, the evidence from defense and the prosecutor you could've gone either way."
Senser told police and later testified at trial she thought she hit a construction sign or traffic cone when she exited westbound Interstate 94 at Riverside Avenue on the night of Aug. 23, 2011.
The appeal also cites what another juror, Kathryn Richmond, wrote in an Star-Tribune opinion piece. She stated, in part, "There was not sufficient evidence for a jury determination that Senser had left the scene of the accident believing there was an injured person lying in the Riverside ramp.."
The Senser defense team also cites a handwritten note jurors sent to trial judge Dan Mabley before they announced their verdict.
It read simply, "Can this be read in the court room in front of Ms. Senser? We believe she believed she hit a car or vehicle and not a person."
Judge Mabley didn't read the note in court. In a letter explaining that decision Mabley said it had no bearing on the decision the jurors had already reached in 20 hours of deliberations over three days.
Appeals expert Joe Daly, a retired Hamline Law School professor, was not available for comment Wednesday. But at the time the note came to light Daly told KARE it warranted a serious look.
"I would reverse it, if I were an appellate judge, based on this note," Daly remarked.
"I think it does impeach the verdict of the jury. It raises the question as to whether or not she was charged correctly."
The original accident generated widespread media coverage and highly opinionated speculation on social media sites because the Senser family initially withheld the name of the driver after turning over their damaged Mercedes SUV to the Minnesota State Patrol.
That pervasive publicity, added to often vitriolic statements made about Senser and her family on Twitter and Facebook, led Senser's lawyers to file a motion for a change of venue. In their appeal brief they argue that trial judge, Dan Mabley, erred by not moving the trial away from Minneapolis.
They also contend Mabley made a mistake by deciding to let the jurors go home after each day of the trial, rather than sequestering them in a hotel. Senser's lawyers had asked for that, in hopes it would make it harder for jurors to be exposed to media accounts of the each day's testimony.
Many of the arguments Nelson made to the Court of Appeals were laid out in an August filing, known as the Statement of Case. But the 50-page Appellant's Brief filed Wednesday lays out the legal arguments, citing statutes and case laws.
It's also accompanied by a 634-page appendix.
A spokesperson for the Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said his office has just received the brief late Wednesday afternoon and wouldn't be responding for the time being.
Senser is currently serving a 41-month sentence at the state prison for women in Shakopee. She has declined media interviews pending her appeal.
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