Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Game warden testifies in Vang trial

By Robert Imrie

Associated Press

Hayward, Wis. (AP) – A man in a blaze orange jacket frantically
waved to the first law enforcement officers to arrive at the scene
where six deer hunters were fatally shot last fall, a state
conservation warden testified Monday in the trial of a Minnesota
man accused in the Wisconsin killings.

The man told the officers his relatives were shot over a
trespassing issue, and five already were dead, said Brian Knepper
of the Wisconsin DNR. A sixth died later at the hospital.

Knepper did not identify the man who met them near a driveway
leading to the Sawyer County deer camp where 15 people had gathered
Nov. 21.

As the murder trial of Chai Soua Vang resumed Monday, Sawyer
County Circuit Judge Norman Yackel agreed to allow two
photographers into the courtroom as long as they made less noise
and took fewer photos.

He imposed the ban on still photographers Saturday after Vang’s
attorneys complained about the camera noise.

The trial opened Saturday with attorneys’ opening statements and
four law enforcement officials’ testimony in a courtroom packed
with nearly 100 people, most of them relatives or friends of the
victims from nearby Rice Lake.

Vang, a 36-year-old Hmong immigrant and truck driver from St.
Paul is charged with six counts of first-degree murder and three
counts of attempted murder in the shootings that erupted after the
hunters confronted him for trespassing in a treestand. He faces
mandatory life in prison if convicted. Wisconsin does not have the
death penalty.

Vang, a deer hunter since 1992, said he acted in self-defense
after someone shot at him. Survivors of the shootings said Vang
fired first, prosecutors said.

Gerald Kotajarvi of the state crime laboratory testified Monday
that officers found 12 rifle shells in the woods at the shooting
scene, and they were of the same caliber of the gun later seized
from Vang.

One shell was found within 15 feet of one victim, 27-year-old
Jessica Willers, Kotajarvi said.

He held up a Browning rifle that belonged to Willers’ father,
Terry Willers, and said the gun was found with four rounds in it.
The gun could hold five rounds. Willers had the only gun found
among the hunters, a Browning .270-caliber automatic rifle,
investigators said.

Based on court records, the state’s key witnesses are Willers
and Lauren Hesebeck – two hunters who survived wounds to either
their neck or shoulder.

In opening statements, prosecutors said Willers found Vang in
the treestand on 80 acres of private land and asked him to leave.
Vang climbed from the stand and was heading down a trail when two
ATVs with the other hunters arrived, prosecutors said.

Assistant Attorney General Roy said one of the dead hunters,
Robert Crotteau, a co-owner of the land, was angry at Vang and used
profanity but not racial slurs in demanding him to leave. The only
threat made was to report Vang to conservation wardens for
trespassing by writing down Vang’s hunting license number from a
tag he was wearing on the back of his blaze orange jacket.

But Kohn told the jury Willers was “abrupt and antagonistic”
when he first saw Vang, demanding he “get the hell off this

Korte said Vang fired at least 20 shots, and one victim was
killed after he ran nearly 500 feet away.

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