Updated: 05/04/2012 7:04 AM KSTP.com By: Jennie Olson
Jurors spent 19 hours in deliberation before finding Amy Senser guilty of two of three felonies in connection with the hit-and-run death of a Minneapolis chef.
The jury found Senser guilty of two felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide Thursday, as well as a misdemeanor count of careless driving.
Senser was found not guilty of a third count of felony criminal vehicular homicide related to gross negligence.
The wife of former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser was charged following the Aug. 23, 2011, death of 38-year-old Anousone Phanthavong, who was hit and killed as he stood alongside his car off of Interstate-94 in Minneapolis.
"It's a very difficult case because we had to prove on circumstantial evidence what was going on in the mind of another person," said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. "The guilty verdict on counts one and two reflect that the jury looked at the case very carefully, and in the end they did justice."
Senser, 45, of Edina, showed little emotion as the verdicts were read, staring straight ahead. It was jurors who looked tense at the conclusion of the highly publicized trial, with one crying and dabbing at tears with a handkerchief. Later, after the judge dismissed the jury, Joe Senser stood behind his wife and rubbed her shoulders, trying to comfort her as she sniffled and wiped away tears.
Prosecutors claimed Senser must have known she struck Phanthavong, though Senser said she had no idea she hit him until much later.
"I think if you're driving a car and you have an accident, the state Legislature and all the rest of us believe you have a duty to stop. That clearly is something that Mrs. Senser did not do," Freeman said. "You have a duty to report that accident and do it by the most immediate method of communication possible. The message here is to report your accident and stop at the scene."
But Senser family attorney Eric Nelson said the Sensers did their due diligence.
At a press conference, Nelson said the defense team believes the Sensers satisfied the law by surrendering the vehicle. He said the law requires the driver to give notification of the accident - not their name or other information, but just the fact that there was an accident.
"I firmly believe in Ms. Senser's testimony that she did not see [Phanthavong]," Nelson said. "I've gotten to know her over the course of the last eight months, and she's not the type of person to knowingly leave a man in the road to die. She's a wonderfully kind person, and this is a tragic event."
It took the jury about 19 hours to deliberate before reaching the verdict. Nelson said Senser reacted with fear and shock, but not anger, adding that Senser "wants the world to believe" she is telling the truth.
One of the jurors said Thursday evening that the case was difficult because it came down to circumstantial evidence, but that jurors had decided not to deadlock.
"It was just a very challenging case for us to come to a consensus," Jameson "Jay" Larson told The Associated Press. "We believed the answer was in the jury room."
Larson said the jury of seven men and five women spent most of Thursday trying to determine whether Amy Senser knew she had hit a person before convicting her on the failing-to-stop charge.
"It was very, very emotional," Larson said, adding that he and his fellow jurors went through her testimony and reviewed evidence, including phone records.
"On behalf of the victim's family, there's no big upside on what we've seen for anyone today," said Phanthavong family attorney Jim Ballentine. "The ground in front of the door to the criminal justice system is level, and for obvious reason that has been a concern for my clients from day one. They're thankful that justice was accomplished in the guilty verdict."
Senser, who faces 48 months in prison, was not taken into custody Thursday, Nelson said. The defense team will ask the court not to send her to prison. Nelson said he intends to "appeal certain decisions that I think the court made."
Senser's sentencing is scheduled for Monday, July 9.
Each felony count was punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but sentencing guidelines suggested four years. The misdemeanor carried a potential sentence of up to 90 days in jail.
Phanthavong's family members have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Sensers seeking more than $50,000 in damages. The court date for the civil suit trial has been set for Monday, July 23.
The case was one of Minnesota's most closely watched criminal trials in years, with overtones of a cover-up and a defendant married to a well-known figure in the state. Senser's husband, Joe Senser, was a tight end for the Vikings in the early 1980s and has remained visible as a game commentator and as owner of a string of restaurants in his name.
Click here to view court documents, previous stories, and sketches from inside the courtroom.
Click here to watch reactions from the prosecution, defense, and family about the verdict.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.