Jury picking began last week in Wisconsin hunter shootings case

By Robert Imrie

Associated Press

Hayward, Wis. (AP) – In the northwestern Wisconsin town that was
home to six deer hunters killed during a confrontation over
trespassing, many folks wonder why the murder trial for a Hmong
immigrant is needed and whether they will get justice.

“The guy admitted he shot people in the back,” Rice Lake Mayor
Larry Jarvela said. “Some people are upset that they are going to
bring all the liberals up from Madison for the jury.”

Last Thursday, 300 miles to the south of this northwoods hunting
and fishing paradise, attorneys begin picking a jury for the trial
of Chai Soua Vang, a 36-year-old St. Paul, Minn., truck driver,
National Guard veteran and father of six arrested hours after the
Nov. 21 shootings in some isolated Sawyer County woods.

The jury will be chosen in Dane County – home to the state
Capitol and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a society vastly
different than the rural, slow-paced home to the country’s largest
cross-county ski race – and then be bused to Hayward for the

“It is an important case simply because hunting, particularly in
northern Wisconsin, is something which is a significant part of the
culture here, and the magnitude of the alleged crime,” said
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who is prosecuting the case
with two assistant attorneys general.

In documents made public so far, eyewitnesses and friends of the
dead hunters portray the killings as cold-blooded murders by an
angry man, while Vang told investigators he was shot at first and
acted in self-defense after the hunters tormented him with
profanity and racial insults.

In a letter to a Chicago Tribune reporter from jail, Vang said
he acted to “defend myself and my race.” The tragedy happened
“because people are not able to treat others with respect like they
want to be treated and hatred toward other people,” Vang wrote.

One of his attorneys, Steve Kohn, said a decision has been made
on whether Vang will testify during the trial expected to last up
to two weeks, but he refused to disclose it.

Deb Somer of Stone Lake said she will follow the trial closely
but acknowledges she’s made up her mind – whether Vang testifies or

“I think he should go to jail forever,” she said.

Judge Norman Yackel granted a defense request to pick a jury
from outside Sawyer County because of publicity about the case and
concern of possible anti-Hmong sentiment in the area. Vang is a
Hmong immigrant who came to the United States from a refugee camp
in Thailand in 1980 when he was 11.

People in Rice Lake, a city of about 8,500, want closure to the
tragedy, Mayor Jarvela said.

“The only part where there is disagreement is who fired first. I
got to believe that if those guys wanted to fire on him with the
intent of hurting him, they wouldn’t have missed,” Jarvela said.
“Even if they did shoot, it would have been on the ground or in the
air just to scare him possibly. They said they didn’t fire so
that’s good enough for me.”

Solomom Her, a 30-year-old agent for Hmong American Insurance in
Eau Claire, said he knows of Hmong hunters who have been harassed
in the woods. The trial will come down to whether Vang was shot at
first, he said.

“If you get angry and shoot them, it is not right,” Her said.
“If they shoot you, then it is right.”

The Hmong, an ethnic minority, resettled in the United States
after fleeing Laos when the communists seized control in 1975
following the end of the Vietnam War. About 46,000 live in

Race shouldn’t be any part of the case, Jarvela believes.

“Maybe to some degree it’s about Laotian people and their
hunting habits,” he said. “There might have been some racial
statements made and things, but that had nothing to do with

Given the emotion likely involved in the confrontation, it
wouldn’t have made any difference whether the trespasser was
“black, white, yellow or whatever,” the mayor said.

“Statements would have been made because you violated people’s
right to hunt on their own land,” he said. “They call you whatever
they know about you at the time.”

Vang is charged with six counts of first-degree murder and two
counts of attempted murder. He faces mandatory life in prison if

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