Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Jury convicts Vang in hunter shootings case

By Robert Imriet Associated Press

Hayward, Wis. (AP) „ A jury last Friday convicted an immigrant
truck driver of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of six
deer hunters during a confrontation over trespassing, rejecting his
claims that he fired in self-defense after one hunter used racial
slurs and another shot at him.

Chai Soua Vang, 36, of St. Paul, Minn., faces mandatory life in
prison. Wisconsin does not have a death penalty.

Jurors deliberated about three hours before convicting Vang on
six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of
attempted homicide. In addition to the six dead, two hunters were
wounded in the Sawyer County shootings Nov. 21 that began when the
group of hunters confronted Vang for being on private land.

Vang, dressed in a business suit with family members seated
behind him, showed no visible emotion as the judge read the

Vang testified in his defense on Thursday, the final day of
testimony in the trial, and stated on Nov. 21, 2004, he was ñscared
and confused,î feared for his life, and that three of the six
hunters ñdeserved to die.î Testimony earlier in the week was
equally as chilling.

Shortly after eight hunters were shot, Vang walked up to hunter
Daryl Gass and politely asked for directions, though he seemed
nervous and in a hurry, Gass testified last Wednesday.

Gass said he heard about 15 shots over 10 minutes some 500 yards
from his treestand around noon Nov. 21 and expected to see fleeing
deer headed his way.

Gass said he heard a noise, looked behind him, and saw a man
wearing camouflage, instead of the usual hunter blaze orange,
carrying a gun and a backpack.

ñHe mentioned he was lost and needed help,î Gass testified,
identifying the man as Chai Soua Vang.

Gass said he gave Vang directions to a logging road that would
lead him out of the woods. Vang apologized for interrupting his
hunt and walked on, Gass said.

ñHe was very polite,î Gass testified. ñBut he seemed a little
nervous. I just assumed that was because he was lost. When he left,
he was making some time but he wasnÍt running.î

Gass said he radioed his 19-year-old son, Eric, who was hunting
nearby, and warned him that Vang was walking his way and not to
mistake him for a deer. The son testified he watched Vang reach the
logging road and walk on it for a bit before turning into the woods

Daryl Gass apparently was the first person to encounter Vang
after the shootings that left six dead and two wounded in some
isolated Sawyer County woods. Vang and the hunters got into a
confrontation after they found Vang in a treestand on their private

Vang said he acted in self-defense after someone shot at him
first. VangÍs attorney, Steven Kohn, told jurors that Vang, a deer
hunter since 1992, came under a verbal attack from the hunters who
used profanities and racial slurs, and Vang felt frightened and
under siege.

But the two hunters wounded in the shooting testified Vang fired
first, and one of them returned one shot.

Another hunter, Walter Cieslak, testified Sept. 14 he was
loading gear on an ATV to drive out of the woods around 4:30 p.m.
that day when he heard a noise that startled him. He said he turned
and saw Vang.

ñHe said, ïIÍm sorry. I didnÍt mean to scare you,Í î Cieslak
said. ñHe said he was lost and asked if I had a map.î

Cieslak offered Vang a ride on his ATV, and they drove about
eight minutes to CieslakÍs pickup, he said. When they got there,
Cieslak said he was surprised to see some unfamiliar people.

ñI said, ïThis guy is lost. Is there anyone who can help him?Í î
Cieslak said.

DNR Conservation Warden Jeremy Peery was there and realized Vang
may be the suspect in the shootings, Cieslak said. The warden
pulled his gun, demanded Vang put down his rifle, and arrested him,
Cieslak said.

Cieslak said he spent 15 minutes with Vang as darkness started
to set in. Asked to describe VangÍs demeanor, Cieslak called it
ñvery calm.î

Cieslak and the Gasses were among five people who testified
Sept. 14 for the prosecution. The defense did not cross-examine any
of them.

A gun expert testified the Russian-made rifle used in the
shootings could hold 10 cartridges and be fired as quickly as four
times a second. William Newhouse of the state crime laboratory held
the 7.62 mm semiautomatic rifle before the jury and pulled the
trigger once.

Newhouse said 14 shells that investigators recovered from the
woods were fired from VangÍs black hunting rifle. His testimony
suggested Vang had to reload his gun once.

In questioning Newhouse, Assistant Attorney General Roy Korte
suggested that Vang, in taking the scope off his gun, made it
easier for him to shoot the hunters.

ñIt is difficult to aim the gun at something close with a
telescopic sight on the gun,î Newhouse said.

Two hunters wounded in the shooting, Terry Willers and Lauren
Hesebeck, testified that Vang was standing 25 to 30 yards from
their group when he started shooting.

Survivor testifies

On Tuesday, Aug. 13, Hesebeck testified. He told jurors in
VangÍs murder trial that Robert Crotteau had referred to Hmong
hunters as ñmud ducksî and ñhe was sick of them coming on his

HesebeckÍs testimony was the first indication of why Crotteau
wanted to talk to Vang last Nov. 21 after another member of their
hunting group had already spotted Vang in the treestand and told
him to leave. The other hunter, Terry Willers, testified Vang
apologized and was walking away before the others arrived.

Hesebeck said Crotteau and four others rode ATVs to intercept
Vang as he walked down a trail, and Crotteau angrily confronted
Vang and used profanities.

ñBob asked him, ïWhat the (expletive) are you doing here? Do you
know you are on private land?Í î Hesebeck testified.

Hesebeck said Vang tried to walk away once, and CrotteauÍs son,
Joey, blocked him because Robert Crotteau said he wasnÍt finished
talking yet.

Hesebeck said at one point Robert Crotteau told Vang, ñYou keep
it up, IÍm going to kick your a—. You come back, IÍm going to kick
your a—. Better yet, IÍm going to report you to the DNR. Maybe that
will teach you.î

Willers, who like Hesebeck was wounded in the shootings, told
jurors on Sept. 12 that he never heard Crotteau use excessive
profanities or any racial slurs, though he conceded he did not hear

VangÍs attorney, Steven Kohn, told jurors Vang, a deer hunter
since 1992 and father of six, came under a verbal attack from the
hunters. Vang said he acted in self-defense after someone shot at
him first.

Hesebeck and Willers disagreed in their testimony on some
details, including how Vang held his gun. But both testified Vang
shot first, and Hesebeck returned one shot with a rifle that
Willers had.

On Tuesday, defense attorneys questioned Hesebeck about
statements he gave his wife and investigators in which he said he
believed Willers fired at Vang.

Prosecutors suggested Hesebeck may have been confused when he
gave those statements. They presented evidence that only one shot
was fired from WillersÍ gun, the only firearm among the hunters who
confronted Vang.

Hesebeck, a Rice Lake car salesman, testified that Crotteau, who
owned a concrete construction business and was killed in the
shootings, had removed Hmong hunters from his land before last
fallÍs hunting season. When he learned a trespasser was in his
sonÍs treestand, he wanted to talk to him.

Hesebeck said he decided to ride along with Crotteau on an ATV
after Dennis Drew, another hunter killed, encouraged him.

ñDenny said, ïThis ought to be interesting. LetÍs go and see
whatÍs going on,Í î Hesebeck said.

Hesebeck said Crotteau at one point flipped over the hunting tag
on VangÍs back to get his license number. Vang then started to walk

ñWe figured it was done,î Hesebeck said, indicating the hunters
started climbing on the ATV to go back to their cabin.

Hesebeck said he told Crotteau to stop when he noticed Vang
fiddling with his gun, and he saw Vang remove the scope, which
would make it easier to shoot in close quarters.

ñI donÍt know who said it, but somebody said, ïStop. DonÍt
shoot. Just get the hell out of

here,Í î Hesebeck said.

Hesebeck said Vang fired at Willers first. There were other
shots and Vang shot at Hesebeck once but missed. He said a second
bullet struck him in the arm and exited through his back, knocking
him to the ground.

Hesebeck said he opened his eyes and heard Drew holler, ñI am
hit bad. I am gut-shot.î

Hesebeck said Drew asked him to give him last rites, but
Hesebeck didnÍt know how. Then he heard Drew praying.

Suddenly, Hesebeck said, he heard something to the effect of,
ñYou are not dead yet?î and saw Vang nearby.

Hesebeck said one or two shots were fired at him, he scrambled
around the ATVs and dove behind a clump of dirt. He said he fumbled
to take the safety off WillersÍ rifle, shot wildly once at Vang and

Vang hesitated and ran away, Hesebeck said.

Robert CrotteauÍs younger brother, Steve Crotteau, testified he
was at the cabin when shooting erupted, and he heard his brother
call on the radio for Al Laski to bring some guns. Laski left with
Terry WillersÍ daughter, Jessica, but had no guns, Crotteau

Meanwhile, Robert CrotteauÍs son, Carter, said he and another
hunter rushed out on an ATV. They saw Laski and Jessica Willers
dead on a trail, and Carter Crotteau said they kept driving and
picked up the wounded Terry Willers.

They dropped him at the cabin, and Carter Crotteau, 19, said he
returned to find his father dead.

ñI rolled him over and remembered yelling at him, trying to wake
him up. I stood there in disbelief,î Crotteau said.

He said he also found his brother, Joey, dead, and later passed
his uncle, Steve, at the cabin.

Steve Crotteau broke down in tears when testifying he asked his
nephew where everybody was.

ñHe just said, ïThey are all dead.Í î

Key points of the

´ The jury included 10 women and four men from Dane County.

´ In opening statements Saturday, Sept. 10, defense lawyer
Steven Kohn told the jury Vang acted in self-defense, feeling he
was ñunder siege.î Vang eventually testified in his own defense.
Kohn told jurors, ñThere is no question that race and racial
prejudice played a part in the interplay between these

´ Assistant Attorney General Roy Korte told the jury no racial
slurs were used and Vang acted out of anger because he felt
disrespected, firing at least 20 shots after removing a scope from
his rifle to make it easier to shoot in close quarters. He said the
white hunters fired only once at Vang Ü after some victims were

´ On Monday, Sept. 12, Terry Willers, one of two hunters wounded
in the shootings, testified he was the only one in his group who
had a gun when they confronted Vang, and Vang fired first. Willers,
whose 27-year-old daughter was among those killed, said the
confrontation turned violent after Vang apologized for climbing
into the treestand.

´ Willers said he radioed back to the hunting cabin that he had
taken care of a ñtree rat,î and another man in the group, property
co-owner Robert Crotteau, indicated he wanted to talk to the
trespasser, so Crotteau drove up with four more hunters on two ATVs
and angrily accused Vang of trespassing.

´ Willers said the group unsuccessfully tried to get Vang to
show identification, then flipped over the hunting tag on his back
to get his deer license number, and Willers traced the number in
dirt on an ATV.

´ According to Willers, Crotteau hollered to Vang that the
hunters would report him to authorities, and CrotteauÍs son, Joey,
who was also killed, stopped blocking VangÍs path. He said Vang
walked 25 to 30 yards, then crouched down, set down a bag, took the
gun off his shoulder and began firing, hitting Willers in the

´ Investigators said they found a total of 14 spent shells in
the woods. Gerald Kotajarvi of the state crime laboratory said the
shells were of the same caliber of the gun later seized from Vang.
He said four rounds were found in Terry WillersÍ gun, which could
hold five.

Prosecutors said another hunter in the group, Lauren Hesebeck,
fired once with WillersÍ weapon after VangÍs barrage of

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