Less than 2½ years after being sentenced for criminal vehicular homicide in the death of a Minneapolis chef, Amy Senser will be freed Monday.
That is, she’ll be on supervised release — able to go home to Edina or another residence of her choosing, but not allowed to drive, and subject to random drug and alcohol tests.
Senser’s two-week trial in the 2011 hit-and-run death of Anousone Phanthavong riveted Minnesotans and ended with her being sent to prison for 41 months.
Her release comes at the successful completion of a six-month stint at an undisclosed work release site and coincides with her original prison release date. She will remain on supervised release until her sentence expires on Dec. 8, 2015.
Even after that, her driver’s license will remain revoked for approximately five more years. She also must pay a $6,400 fine.
Senser, now 48, must follow a list of conditions while on supervised release, such as maintaining an approved residence and submitting to regular drug and alcohol tests. If she violates the terms, a warrant will be issued and she will be taken back into custody, authorities said.
Senser’s attorney, Eric Nelson, acknowledged last week that she had no issues during her time on work-release, but declined further comment.
The wife of former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser was convicted in 2012 for the Aug. 23, 2011, death of Phanthavong, a chef at the now-closed True Thai restaurant. He had just finished his shift at 11 p.m. and was putting gas in his stalled car on the Riverside Avenue exit ramp of Interstate 94 when he was struck and killed by the SUV Senser was driving.
There were no witnesses. His body, which was thrown 50 feet, was found on the ramp, along with pieces of Senser’s Mercedes-Benz. She has maintained that she didn’t know she had hit a person and that’s why she didn’t stop at the scene.
A new state law went into effect in August that cuts off the “ignorance” defense in hit-and-run cases. Its introduction came in the wake of a 2010 state Supreme Court ruling that reversed the criminal vehicular homicide convictions of Mohammed Al-Naseer in the hit-and-run death of Kane Thomson after prosecutors failed to prove that Al-Naseer knew he struck a person or vehicle when he left the scene, as required by current law.
Naseer’s reversal was used by Senser’s defense team during her trial. She claimed to have dropped her daughters off at a concert in downtown St. Paul and admitted having had half a glass of wine at a nearby restaurant before leaving early because of a migraine.
On the way home, she testified, she changed her mind, exited at Riverside Avenue and turned around to head back toward St. Paul when she became disoriented. She said she thought she hit a construction barrel or pothole when she heard a “clunk” on the freeway ramp but decided to wait until she got home to check out the damage.
A jury didn’t believe Senser and convicted her of two counts of criminal vehicular homicide — one for leaving the scene and a second for failing to call for help. She was acquitted of a third count of gross negligence.
The day after her conviction, the Sensers settled a wrongful-death case with Phanthavong’s family for an undisclosed amount of money.
Nelson unsuccessfully asked Hennepin County District Judge Dan Mabley for a “downward departure,” or less than the recommended prison time, seeking probation only. He cited her lack of a criminal record, support from family and friends, and community involvement. The request was backed by 113 letters from Senser’s relatives and friends, who wrote to the judge that prison time would be of little use for the mother of two teenagers, as opposed to probation and community service.
When Senser was placed on work release in April, she was one of about 200 offenders in Minnesota approved for it at any given time, according to the Department of Corrections. Historically, fewer than 2 percent commit a new offense while on work release.
Offenders on work release are allowed to leave their facility only for employment and cannot visit their families or make other stops while out for the day. They are required to be fully employed and are kept under close supervision. They also are subject to random urinalysis and Breathalyzer tests.
In general, offenders who are found to be at low risk to reoffend and who complete programming requirements, remain discipline-free and meet all other criteria are considered the best work-release candidates, experts say.
David Chanen • 612-673-4465