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Judging Amy

What do we want from the trial of Amy Senser?

Judging Amy
Photo by Hennepin County Jail (Senser)

On April 23, when Amy Senser goes to trial for the hit-and-run death of Anousone Phanthavong, it will be hard to give her a fair shake. She is the wife of a celebrity. She hit Phanthavong, an immigrant Thai chef, with a Mercedes SUV then parked it at her Edina home and went to sleep as though nothing had happened (she says she was aware of hitting something, just not a person). She comes across like Gatsby, smashing through the world and leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces. If the Marx Brothers were still around, they’d toss a pie in her salon-tanned face. But would a conviction make us feel better? It wouldn’t ease the current tension between the haves and have-nots, or, as one observer has optimistically spun it, the “haves and soon-to-haves.” It’s also conceivable, as Senser claims, that she did not see Phanthavong; it could have been anyone. So forget for a moment who she is and he was. It isn’t the income gap between driver and victim that is most appalling. It’s the seeming gap in Senser’s notion of responsibility—a virtue that, in this election year, is being defined in two starkly different ways: “look out for others” and “look out for yourself.” The difference is stoking a culture war in courthouses and capitols and opinion pages over just how much, if anything, we owe each other as we barrel through life in pursuit of our own happiness. Senser’s attorney  has blamed the victim, noting an autopsy report showing cocaine in Phanthavong’s system and implying that this may have caused him to act erratically. How Senser explains herself, and how a jury responds, may tell us a lot about the battle to come.

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

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Mar 20, 2012 11:00 am
 Posted by  manda

"It isn’t the income gap between driver and victim that is most appalling. It’s the seeming gap in Senser’s notion of responsibility..."

Well said.

Mar 21, 2012 12:37 pm
 Posted by  RiskeBiz

Beyond the class implications of the case, don't forget our self-righteous tendencies to turn into arm-chair legal and forensics experts.

When the jury returned a "not-guilty" verdict in the Casey Anthony case, I was disturbed not only by the blood lust that I saw on Facebook, but also by a broad misunderstanding of the judicial process and the very important protections that are afforded those accused of crimes in this country. There seems to be no presumption of innocence in the public sphere.

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