Amy Senser, the wife of a former NFL star, was today found guilty in two of three felony counts related to criminal vehicular homicide.
Senser was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident and failure to promptly report an accident, but was acquitted on the third felony charge of gross negligence. She was also convicted of misdemeanor careless driving.
The 45-year-old showed little emotion as the verdicts were read. She stared straight ahead. Jurors looked tense at the conclusion of the highly publicized trial in Hennepin County District Court, in Minnesota.
Anousone Phanthavong, a restaurant cook, was fatally struck by Amy Senser's sport utility vehicle as he refueled his stalled car on an Interstate 94 ramp in Minneapolis.
Senser is to remain free until sentencing on July 9. Each felony count was punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but sentencing guidelines suggested four years for each count. The misdemeanor carried a potential sentence of up to 90 days in jail.
When jurors filed into the courtroom today to deliver the verdict, a female juror appeared to have been crying. She wiped her eyes several times as they awaited Amy Senser's arrival.
In the moments before the verdict was read, Senser sat very still. After the verdict, her husband, former Minnesota Vikings tight end Joe Senser, put his arm around her, rubbed her back and whispered in her ear.
He then shook hands with her defense team. She left the courtroom with her family.
Phanthavong's family is considering a wrongful death civil lawsuit.
'I Just Never Saw Him. It Just Couldn't Have Been Me'
Senser had testified tearfully on Monday that she knew she had hit something on the night of Aug. 23, but said she believed it was a pothole or construction barrel. She said she didn't see 38-year-old Phanthavong.
"I just never saw him. I didn't see him. It just couldn't have been me," she said.
When asked to describe what the feeling of the impact was like she said, "I've never been in an accident, so I wasn't quite sure if I'd hit a pothole or one of those construction signs."
"I remember being jolted by the front," Senser testified. "Not exactly sure what had happened. I assumed I had hit something."
In her testimony, Senser had told jurors that she'd had part of a glass of wine before meeting her daughter and her daughter's friends at a Katy Perry concert in St. Paul, but left early because she wasn't feeling well, intending for her husband to pick up the girls. On her way home, she changed her mind and turned back, but she got lost and called her husband to get the girls.
She felt the impact to her Mercedes SUV after she exited a freeway. Senser said it wasn't until the next morning, when her husband called her outside to look at her car, that she realized how much damage had occurred. The couple then saw a news report on Phanthavong's death.
During the trial, which started April 23, prosecutor Deborah Russell pressed Senser on deleting numerous text messages between herself, her daughter, her husband and other people the night of the crash. Senser said she exchanges a lot of texts — 1,400 per month based on a phone bill introduced in court — and frequently deletes them. She said she wasn't trying to conceal evidence.
The Sensers contacted an attorney and authorities the day after the accident, but it was more than a week before Amy Senser acknowledged to police that she was the driver.
Stepdaughter Said She Forced Senser to Admit Role in Accident
Senser's husband, teenage daughters, stepdaughter and several experts were among an estimated two dozen people called to the stand.
Experts have testified that it would have been difficult to see Phanthavong or the flashing lights on his car because of the construction, disconnected streetlight and the curving roadway, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
In testimony last week, Senser's stepdaughter, 28-year-old Brittani Senser, said she forced her stepmother to admit her role in the accident.
Brittani Senser testified that she was angry after media reports linked her to the accident, adding that she was concerned because her fiancé knew Phanthavong's brother, and people began to ask her if she was involved in the victim's death, the Star-Tribune also reported.
"I wanted my dad to stand up for me and say I didn't do it," she told jurors, adding, "For people to think I killed someone made me angry."
Amy Senser's defense lawyers countered that Brittani Senser was actually angry that the hit-and-run had caused damage to her career, saying that the 28-year-old was more upset about losing a charity singing gig than about Phanthavong's death.
Senser played four years with the Vikings in the early 1980s before a knee injury ended his career. He co-owns Joe Senser's Restaurant and Sports Theater, a Minneapolis-St. Paul-area restaurant chain, and has worked as a Vikings radio color commentator.
The Associated Press and Laura McCabe contributed to this report.