The Senser case

I couldn’t figure out why this post — the Lynch mob mentality — was suddenly attracting comments again, 10 days after it was first posted in this space.

The column suggested that the legal system be allowed to work — or prove it can’t — in the tragic case of Anousone Phanthavong, who was struck and killed by an SUV we now know was being driven by the wife of former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser (the original post was written when the twitterverse assumed it was Mr. Senser).

The mystery was solved when I saw City Pages posted an interesting story about an op-ed from Anna Prasomphol, owner of a restaurant where Mr. Phanthavong worked.

For her part, Prasomphol is sick of local media taking the point of view of the Sensers, and not the Phanthavongs. She writes that coverage has been from that perspective since the Sensers admitted it was Joe Senser’s Mercedes SUV, driven by Amy, that killed Phanthavong.

In her piece, which you can find here, Ms. Prasomphol says…

But I do not think the local news media cares about Ped’s side of the story. Gail Rosenblum’s column does not allow people to leave comments. You can leave a comment at Bob Collin’s (sic) MPR News Cut blog, but if you defend Ped, he will argue with you in the comments.

I can surely understand Ms. Prasomphol’s pain. Who couldn’t?

But my “arguments” have nothing to do with defending Mrs. Senser nor failing to understand the position of the family of Mr. Phanthavong. My post and subsequent comments were strictly on behalf of the investigatory process and, ultimately, the judicial process.

What we don’t know yet are the details surrounding that acknowledgement. Clearly one side believes it’s unmistakable to have known she hit a man. The other side would appear to be positioning for a defense she didn’t. That’s was investigations and — if necessary — subsequent trials are for.

I get that it’s not popular. There are certain constitutional protections that are guaranteed to people, even the ones who may be detestable to some people. Extending those protections to the popular isn’t where the strength of the constitution comes from.

In the legal system, there is no crime of “killing someone.” Every charge depends on the circumstances surrounding it. First-degree murder, manslaughter, vehicular homcide, inattentive driving… which one of those the authorities ultimately employ in this case is not up to me; it’s up to them after they do the job we pay them to do, in consideration of all of the civil rights we decided long ago we would convey.

“There’s the notion that someone else, whoever else that would be, a normal citizen, would be in jail right now,” Eric Roeske of the Minnesota State Patrol told MPR’s Tim Nelson last week. “We’re not focused on putting someone in jail right now. We’re focused on gathering evidence for a criminal conviction. And if it takes a couple of weeks to do that, we recognize that it’s just going to take that long. We don’t want put together a shoddy case and rush through something.”

In journalism, there are only 6 elements to any story: Who, what, why, when, where, and how. Whatever action is eventually taken against Mrs. Senser will depend on the “why,” the one question for which we do not yet have an answer. In the absence of an answer to any of those questions, we’re not ethically licensed to make them up.

Anyone who’s not a journalist, is under no such restriction.

  • Dean Carlson

    Good Points. Ms. Prasomphol makes some good points too. I think the frustration is that the Sensor’s are using their fame and fortune to play the system to their advantage. Now in the end, when the cops have established all the facts, it may not matter.

    Also one has the feeling that if the roles were reversed and Ped had dragged Mrs. Sensor’s body 40 feet and then fled the scene for 9 days, the police response would have been a whole lot different. I think the reaction from Esme Murphy and Gail Rosenblum would have been a lot different too.

  • Jim Meyer

    Dean took the words out of my mouth, and that seems to be fueling some of the anger. Gail Rosemblum’s column was nauseating.

  • Joe

    The Bonfire of the Vanities. This case reminds me of that book (movie) so much. Its worth the read (or watch).

  • Jim Shapiro

    The closing lines of Rosenblum’s article were biased to the point of being blatantly unprofessional.

    I wrote her a letter that was direct to the point of being blatantly unprintable.

  • Paul Allen

    The classism on display is clear and palpable. Double standards in the justice system is nothing new. The thing that is so infuriating to those of us out there is the perception that the Sensors’ buddies in the media are “covering” for them. That folks like you, Gail and Esme are doing nothing to assuage those fears is disconcerting to day the least. I feel that the victims family will be on their own, when the media SHOULD be investigating this- since when was it the policy of public journalism to “wait and see what the authorities say before drawing conclusions”? Preposterous. As far as justice is concerned it will be interesting to compare the outcome of this trial – if there is one- with that of Koua Fong Lee, convicted of Vehicular Manslaughter, not intoxicated, not fleeing the scene of an accident. The people are watching.

  • Bob Collins

    I’ve never met the Sensers, Esme Murphy, Gail Rosenbum or anyone else connected with this case. The idea that media people are taking care of each other here is an interesting observation, given that the opening paragraphs of my original post pretty much torched my industry colleagues and my own newsroom, much to their dismay.

    //That folks like you, Gail and Esme are doing nothing to assuage those fears is disconcerting to day the least.

    You mean your perception. What exactly is it you want from me specifically in regards to changing your perception?

    Do you want me — as someone earlier in this conversation said — to say “Arrest a Senser. Any Senser?” I’m not going to do that.

    //since when was it the policy of public journalism to “wait and see what the authorities say before drawing conclusions

    It’s not our job to draw conclusions based on something other than the facts. We have a reporter working on this case; so do other media in town. There’s an investigation underway. We don’t have the facts yet to assist listeners/readers in drawing a conclusion other than the ones that have already been revealed.

    Now, let’s suppose, as the State Patrol spokesman said, that the investigation leads to charges. Does that mean the system worked or that it didn’t? Does that depend on the charges that are filed? Based on what you know, what charges should be filed?

    The Koua Fong Lee case is interesting and you’re the second one to cite it in the last 30 minutes so I assume that’s being put out there somewhere. Ultimately, he was wronged by charges, and a judicial system that didn’t go far enough to make sure the facts of the case supported putting him in prison.

    If the assertion is let’s do that to a rich, white person now to prove that the judicial system is fair, that’s not something I would suggest is logical.

    Let’s just get this right, and get the justice for the victim that his family deserves while extending whatever civil rights everyone is entitled to in this country to everyone who is entitled to them.

    That’s not something anyone should be afraid or anything I’m ever going to feel compelled to apologize for.

  • Bob Collins

    //Just another rich family getting away with murder.

    the original report say there was a Mike’s Hard Lemonade bottle cap in the car. I haven’t been able to figure out why you’d leave that there.

  • mars0053

    I agree!! There is no question in my mind that had this accident happened in reverse – Phanthavong had HIT AND RUN Ms. Senser on the side of a road and killed her – he would be sitting in jail right now. I think Ms. Senser should be ashamed of herself – my 1st thought is that she had been drinking and if she waited just long enough to turn herself in there would be no way to prove that she had been. I could really give a sh@* if she is Joe Senser’s wife or not – treat her like every other criminal who performs a hit and run and throw her a** in jail and prosecute her to the fullest!