Question of affair surfaces in Senser trial

The Amy Senser trial certainly took an interesting — and confusing — turn today when prosecutor Deborah Russell tried to challenge Joe Senser’s claim that his wife never lied to him.

Mrs. Senser is on trial for the hit-and-run death last year of Anousone Phanthavong.

According to the Star Tribune, this is the exchange between Russell and Mr. Senser:


“Not about having affairs with other men?” she asked.

Senser testified that he’d never asked her about affairs.

“Did you catch her in inapprorpriate relationships with other men?” she asked.

“No.”

News of any affair hasn’t entered into any documents or statements surrounding the accident.

MPR’s Brandt Williams, who’s covering the trial, says Senser’s attorney did not object to the question, and there was no indication why the line of questioning surfaced.

Do any lawyers in the audience want to provide some analysis of what this is all about and the possible strategy?

  • SG

    It sounds like the prosecutor is just plainly going after her character. I’m very surprised her attorney did not object for lack of foundation.

  • John Oliver

    From another story, from http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2012/04/26/joe-senser-to-take-the-stand-again-in-wifes-trial/,

    there was a lot of questioning about why Amy didn’t pick up the daughters after the concert, and why she didn’t respond to several of Joe’s phone calls that night.

  • MB

    I suspect the prosecutor was attempting to impeach Mr. Senser. He testified that his wife had never lied to him in their 20+ years of marriage. If the prosecutor knows that Mrs. Senser had an affair at some point, that would probably involve some degree of lying. Mr. Senser was able to successfully sidestep the attempted impeachment by claiming that he never directly asked his wife about any affairs. The prosecutor had to leave the issue alone after that, since she has no way of knowing whether Mrs. Senser ever lied in response to a direct question from her husband about an affair. That doesn’t mean Mrs. Senser never had an affair.

  • SG

    Whether or not the prosecutor knew Senser had an affair, she still has to lay foundation to be able to ask that question, which she clearly did not do.

  • doug sandels

    To follow up on MB, she was trying to impeach Joe Senser’s testimony by getting him to admit a specific instance of conduct in which his wife lied to him. The purpose would not be to cast his wife as a philanderer (although that’s probably a nice side-effect for the State), but instead to show that JOE Senser had just lied about his wife never lying to him and, thus, cast doubt on his entire testimony.

    SG, no need to lay foundation if the Defendant doesn’t object. Defense likely didn’t object because laying foundation would be HORRIBLE for them because it would a) show that the Defendant had had affairs, and b) show that Joe Senser had just lied about.

  • Bob Collins

    If the intent was to show Mr. Senser was lying, why got to the “affair” card?

    Why not something along the lines of “did she ever tell you she was “fine,” when she was troubled?”

  • doug sandels

    Why not something along the lines of “did she ever tell you she was “fine,” when she was troubled?”

    Because everyone does that with their spouse sometimes so a jury isn’t going to care enough to discount his testimony. Not everyone denies having an affair only to get caught later.

  • Mick

    Bob:

    Can’t prove that she lied about being fine when she wasn’t. They can prove she had an affair if need be.

  • Bob Collins

    Are they under any ethical obligation to establish that she had an affair now that he didn’t take the bait? Or is simply a bonus for the prosecution that a reasonably juror now thinks she probably did?

  • SG

    I agree with Bob that the prosecution could have asked about a much more innocuous subject than having an affair. I’m pretty sure “Did she ever tell you she was fine” was just an example.

  • MIck

    Well the prosecution could prove Joe knew that his wife had an affair and lied about it to impeach his testimony (as stated above) Or (complete speculation here) she was out with someone else the night of the accident and was lying about it to Joe. Who knows.

  • dean carlson

    The precise manner Senser answered this question as “I never asked her about affairs” is very interesting. It seems to me that the defense was prepared for this question and had a answer prepared that didn’t allow the prosecution to move forward in its questioning.

    I’ve never asked my wife about having affairs either but if asked on the witness stand my answer would have been more along the lines of “What!? No she’s never had an affair!”

  • Jeff

    I can believe that Joe would be told to answer in that sort of way (“I never asked her about…”) if he was asked if she ever lied to him. I don’t think his answer shows he was warned that they might ask him about an affair. Just that he was well prepared to answer some questions that were designed to rattle him and paint him as a liar. (Isn’t that what you would do if you thought your client was lying? Tell them how to honestly sidestep hard questions?)

    If a husband isn’t required to testify against his spouse, does that mean he doesn’t have to tell some details about that night? I’m not asking if hie can lie, but just selectively omit certain details.

  • doug sandels

    The spousal privilege would protect CONVERSATIONS between Joe and Amy Senser, not FACTS. Thus, if you was invoking spousal privilege, Joe would not have to testify about things he and Amy talked about. He would still have to testify (if called and asked) about observing a dent in the car the following morning, going to pick up the girls from the concert, etc.

  • Mark Gisleson

    Maybe there is a bonus here for the prosecution, just like all the stories about the victim have been a bonus for the defense.

    No one is covering themselves with glory here but in the prosecutor’s defense I do feel obliged to point out that the smearing of the victim began almost immediately when an anonymous commenter left the victim’s arrest record on Esme Murphy’s blog where it remained for several weeks before finally being deleted (well after it had been widely disseminated).

    Context is important, and this question about an affair didn’t just come flying out of nowhere. Eric Nelson has been very aggressive in defending Amy, and has no room to complain when the prosecution plays by Nelson’s rules.

  • Disco

    Never mind a theoretical affair. I think this is juicer: the exchange between the prosecution and Joe that says Amy Senser could just as soon “go do something else,” as if on a whim, than pick up her children. (They’re trying to explain WHY Amy did not pick up her children.)

    I can (barely) understand getting lost on the freeway. But going and doing something else? When she should have been picking up her children? What sort of ridiculous codswallop is that?

    Up to this point I’d been led to believe that the Sensers’ attorney was slimy but skillful. I can’t believe what I’m hearing now.

  • Michele

    Eric Nelson would have contested that question if he felt there was an advantage. As an earlier commented pointed out, this makes you wonder if Amy wasn’t perhaps drinking with a boyfriend prior to the accident. If Nelson objected he could have created a great big open door for even more damaging evidence/testimony.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Oooooo this is fun!

    Too bad it’s not on Court TV, huh?!?

  • Michele

    //I can (barely) understand getting lost on the freeway….

    Exactly. She’s been living in here for at least 20 years and as Joe says, she likes to go off and explore…seems she would be able to navigate I-94.

  • Kate B.

    Are we to believe that the mercedes in question was not equipped with on star or gps? She is from this area–not likely to become lost. Interesting that whomever she was with that night has not come forward. ?? Even more interesting that Joe and girls seem to excuse/explain away her irresponsible behavior. Codependent relationships can be that way…exasperating for the enablers. I know this was an accident, but Ms Senser has failed to do the right thing from the get-go. It seems she only came forward after the make/model/color of her car became public, and it took coercion for her to admit she was driving.

    Too bad the accident reconstructor couldn’t film a re-creation with a 135 lb crash dummy to illustrate to the jury just how obvious it is when you hit a person with your car. I hope and pray that true justice prevails.

  • Kate B.

    Are we to believe that the mercedes in question was not equipped with on star or gps? She is from this area–not likely to become lost. Interesting that whomever she was with that night has not come forward. ?? Even more interesting that Joe and girls seem to excuse/explain away her irresponsible behavior. Codependent relationships can be that way…exasperating for the enablers. I know this was an accident, but Ms Senser has failed to do the right thing from the get-go. It seems she only came forward after the make/model/color of her car became public, and it took coercion for her to admit she was driving.

    Too bad the accident reconstructor couldn’t film a re-creation with a 135 lb crash dummy to illustrate to the jury just how obvious it is when you hit a person with your car. I hope and pray that true justice prevails.