Vang convicted of killing Wisconsin deer hunters

By Robert Imrie

Associated Press

Jurors deliberated three hours before ruling last Friday

Hayward, Wis. (AP) – A Wisconsin jury convicted an Asian
immigrant of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of six deer
hunters, rejecting his claims that he fired in self-defense after
being shot at and taunted by racial slurs.

Chai Soua Vang, an ethnic Hmong who came to this country from
Southeast Asia more than 20 years ago, faces mandatory life in
prison. Wisconsin does not have a death penalty.

Jurors deliberated about three hours last Friday 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 shootings Nov. 21 that began
when the group of hunters confronted Vang for being on private
land.

Vang, 36, dressed in a business suit with family members seated
behind him, showed no visible emotion as the judge read the
verdict.

The slayings occurred during the state’s beloved deer hunting
season and exposed racial tension between the predominantly white
northwoods residents and immigrants from the Hmong ethnic
group.

Outside court, Vang’s sister questioned the jury’s makeup.

“Everyone was white,” Chou Vang said. “They do not understand.
They will never understand what my brother went through out there,”
she said. “He was not a dog to sit there and let them shoot at him.
He was proud of who he is.”

Defense lawyer Steven Kohn said the verdict was not a surprise.
“We had no illusions. The facts were incredibly difficult from a
defense standpoint,” he said.

The original jury pool of 450 people included minorities, but
most asked not to serve on the jury because of a conflict or
personal feelings. “They were given the same deference as the
Caucasians,” Kohn said.

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said in her closing argument
that Vang ambushed some of the victims and chased down one of them.
But the defense said the confrontation was all about racial
prejudice.

Vang, a truck driver from St. Paul, came to the United States
more than 20 years ago from a refugee camp in Thailand.

He said the shootings happened after one of the white hunters
used profanities and racial slurs when angrily confronting him for
trespassing in a treestand used to hunt deer last fall.

Two survivors of the shootings testified that only one shot was
fired at Vang, and that was after he had already shot the
victims.

Cross-examined by Lautenschlager, Vang was asked if each victim
deserved to die. Vang answered “no” in some cases and “yes” in
others.

He told jurors he was on the rifle team in high school in
California and later served in the National Guard, where he was
trained to shoot to kill. He also described himself as an
experienced hunter.

Associated Press Writer Todd Richmond in Hayward contributed to
this report.

By Ryan J. Foley

Associated Press

Jury foreman: Vang’s testimony was not credible

Madison, Wis. (AP) – The foreman of a jury that found a Hmong
immigrant guilty of killing six white deer hunters said Saturday
the man’s testimony that he acted in self defense was not
credible.

Chai Soua Vang testified last week that he feared for his life
after being threatened and called racial slurs and fired only after
someone else shot at him first.

Jury foreman William F. Bremer told The Associated Press in a
telephone interview that Vang could have walked away after the
hunters angrily confronted him for trespassing on their land in
some isolated northwestern Wisconsin woods.

Bremer said he believed that the 36-year-old truck driver from
St. Paul, Minn., had changed his story in court and said there were
other inconsistencies. Bremer said testimony showed Vang had
initially told sheriff’s investigator Garry Gillis that one of the
hunters he confronted had shot all the people.

“The story he had told in court was not the first story he had
told,” Bremer said. “I certainly kept in mind that he had
opportunity to review other statements and other documents.”

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who prosecuted the case,
argued that Vang gunned down the hunters in a rampage as they
either watched in disbelief, were ambushed or were trying to flee.
In the end, six were dead and two were injured. The victims
included a father and son and a daughter of one of the
survivors.

Jurors did not address the media after handing down the verdict
Friday evening in Hayward in Sawyer County.

On Saturday, they returned home 280 miles south to Dane County,
home of the state Capitol and University of Wisconsin-Madison,
where they were picked because of publicity about the case and
concern of anti-Hmong sentiment.

Bremer, a 58-year-old highway engineer who does not hunt, said
he was ultimately unsure what role race played in the Nov. 21
confrontation.

“Whether it would have happened if that was a white hunter or
some other hunter, I have no idea,” Bremer said. “There was a lot
of anger in the woods that day on both sides. But what caused that
anger – the issue of trespassing was certainly very important. I
don’t know.”

After the verdict, Vang’s family members said the all-white jury
of eight women and four men could not empathize with Vang and the
outcome may have been different had minorities been on the panel.
Bremer rejected that view, saying race was not an issue in the jury
deliberations.

In addition, Bremer said maps of the scene of the shootings cast
doubt on the notion that Vang was shot at first. Prosecutors said
that was impossible given the layout of the area, but Vang called
the maps inaccurate.

“I didn’t get very much sleep last night, but I’m at ease with
my conscience and I know I made the right decision,” Bremer
said.

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