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Chai Vang

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Chai Soua Vang (王才, born September 24, 1968) is a a naturalized U.S. citizen and a Hmong immigrant from Laos. While hunting, Vang shot several white deer hunters in northern Wisconsin on November 21, 2004. Eventually, six of the hunters died and two were left wounded.

According to court proceedings prior to his conviction, Vang acknowledged shooting the hunters, including one woman, but challenged the chain of events that caused a dispute over a deer stand to become violent and how it escalated into multiple deaths. Vang, who lived in Saint Paul, Minnesota at the time of the shootings, is currently being held at Iowa State Penitentiary.

Background Edit

History Edit

Chai Vang is the father of six children, a family shaman,[1] and a hunting enthusiast. Vang and his brothers came to the United States from Laos in 1980, and initially settled in California. Chai Vang lived in Sacramento and eventually enlisted in the California National Guard.

Vang moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota sometime around 2000. A few years later, he and his family moved a few miles to the neighboring city of St. Paul. Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments have record of several calls about domestic violence at the Vang residences during this time.

Shootings Edit

On the weekend of the shootings, Vang went out deer hunting with two friends and their two sons in northwest Wisconsin, a region where deer hunting is particularly popular, east of Birchwood, Wisconsin around the town of Meteor. Meteor has a large area with a low population. In this region, there is a mix of public and private land. It is believed that Vang and his friends began their day on public land, but he later went onto a private 400 acre (1.6 km²) tract of land.

On Sunday, November 21, a hunting party of about 15 people were in a cabin on this private land. One person, Terry Willers, left the cabin and saw Vang sitting in a deer stand. He used a handheld radio to ask the people still in the cabin whether or not anyone should be in the stand. Upon receiving a response in the negative on that question, he began to approach Vang and called to leave the private land. After asking for directions, Vang proceeded to walk away towards a trail through a forested area of the property. He was confronted at that point by five of the hunters from the cabin who had heard Terry Willers radio message. The events after the confrontation are under dispute. At this point the aggressor of this event will only be known by Willers, Hesebeck, and Vang; however, four of the eight injured hunters were shot in the back, and three of these four were hit by multiple rounds. It is believed that he fired about 20 rounds from a Saiga rifle chambered in 7.62x39. One of the wounded hunters died the next day, bringing the toll to six dead and two wounded.

Vang was apprehended about five hours after the shootings and was placed in custody of the Sawyer County Jail on November 24, 2004. His bail was set at $2.5 million.

Victims Edit

The victims, who were all white, were part of a group about 15 people who made their annual opening-weekend trip to the 400 acre (1.6 km²) property co-owned by Robert Crotteau and Terry Willers. Among the victims were a father and son, Robert and Joey Crotteau. A memorial website for the victims was created Memorial Page

Those who were killed:

  • Robert Crotteau, 42, owned concrete business in Rice Lake. Married with 3 children. Shot once in the back.
  • Joey Crotteau, 20, Robert's son and partner. Shot 4 times in the back.
  • Allan Laski, 43, manager of a Rice Lake area lumber yard. Married with 3 children. Shot in the back 3 times.
  • Mark Roidt, 28, a friend of the Drew family. Shot once in the head.
  • Jessica Willers, 27, a nurse from Rice Lake who had moved to Green Bay. She was engaged. Shot in the back twice.
  • Denny Drew, 55, a car salesman in Rice Lake. Shot once through the stomach and died in the hospital.

Those who were wounded:

  • Lauren Hesebeck, 48, a manager at car dealership in Rice Lake. Drew was his brother-in-law. Shot once through the shoulder, exiting the back.
  • Terry Willers, 47, father of Jessica Willers. Worked in Crotteaus' concrete business. Shot once in the neck.

Investigation Edit

There have been conflicting reports about what may have led to the shootings. According to oral statements by Vang, one of the local hunters, Terry Willers, took the first shot at him from about 100 feet (30 m) away, and therefore the shootings were in self-defense. No shell casing was ever recovered from Willer's gun even though during the trial Hesebeck admitted to firing a single shot. Hesebeck testified no shot was ever fired. Additional forensic analysis of Willer's gun was not performed by the local law enforcement. Vang claims race may have been a factor, alleging that during the verbal dispute, some of the local hunters yelled out racial slurs at him such as "chink" and "gook". On the stand Hesebeck admitted Robert Crotteau had called Vang a 'Hmong a--hole.' Hesebeck also admitted that he told law enforcement that Robert Crotteau had problems with trespassers in the past, specifically citing Hmong hunters, who apparently are known to travel to Wisconsin from Minnesota to hunt. The term "Mud Duck" is a common reference to Minnesota residents used often in Western Wisconsin, similar to "Cheesehead" being used to describe Wisconsin residents. The term was used to describe Chai Vang noting that he was from Minnesota. The term has no racial connotation, although the defense made this claim. This word was used when Willers radioed back to the cabin. It is unknown how during the altercation, they were able to conclude that Vang was from Minnesota.

Vang has a history of domestic violence. In addition, the criminal complaint states Vang shot four of the victims in the back and Vang himself admits he shot one victim in the back, which, the prosecutor's office claims does not help the case for self defense. In addition, many of the victims were shot multiple times.

Trial Edit

The trial of Chai Soua Vang began Saturday, September 10, 2005 in Sawyer County Courthouse. 14 jurors (10 women and four men) were selected from Dane County, Wisconsin, and bussed about 280 miles northwest to Sawyer County, where they were sequestered.

Vang told the jury he feared for his life and began firing only after another hunter's shot nearly hit him. He detailed for jurors how the other hunters approached him, and how he responded by shooting at each one. He says he shot two of the victims in the back because they were "disrespectful". He recounted with clarity how he killed each victim. While saying on the stand, "(he wished) it wasn't happening", Chai Soua Vang contended that three of the hunters deserved to die:

"Did Mr. Crotteau deserve to die?" Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager asked.

"Yes," Chai Soua Vang replied.

Vang further testified that Joseph Crotteau deserved to die "because he accused me of giving him the finger and tried to cut in front of me to stop me from leaving." And Laski deserved to die because he had a gun, he said.[2] Vang re-enacted his deeds while on the stand, using his hands and arms to imitate the motions of firing a rifle. Vang's lawyers commented that some of his seemingly abnormal remarks were due possibly to the language barrier.

Conviction Edit

On September 16, 2005 Chai Soua Vang was found guilty of all six charges of first degree murder and two charges of attempted murder by a jury of eight women and four men. On November 8, 2005, he was sentenced to six consecutive life terms plus seventy years (40 for two counts of attempted murder plus five additional years for each count of murder in the first degree). Wisconsin is one of a handful of states in the U.S. that does not have the death penalty. Wisconsin Court Record

Reaction and controversy Edit

The shooting and subsequent trial incident attracted nationwide attention and sparked much controversy.

Because of Vang's background as a Hmong immigrant from Laos, many Hmong feel they have been greatly discriminated against because of the incident. One of the biggest matters of conflict between Hmong culture and contemporary American culture is, in fact, hunting. Hmong people came from a hunting culture, and in their homeland, most lands were government owned and therefore open to hunting. The concept of private property is a foreign concept to them. Regional officials in Wisconsin and Minnesota have focused on educating Hmong hunters on private property rights, to diminish future conflicts. [1]

Coversely, white residents in the region say the focus of news reports was on the potential discrimination against Hmong instead of on the actual suffering of the victims of the shootings. This included a brief circulation of bumper stickers entitled "Save a Deer, Shoot a Hmong" akin to the controversial 1989 campaign of "Save a Walleye. Spear a Indian" at Rice Lake.

Perceptions surrounding the Chai Vang incident is thought to have played a role in a January 2007 conflict in the same region, where a Caucasian hunter, James Nichols, allegedly killed a Hmong hunter, Cha Vang, and claims to have done so in self-defense. [2]

Vang's military experienceEdit

  • Six years in the California National Guard, 1989-1995
  • Sharpshooter qualification badge (mid-level, above "Marksman")
  • Good Conduct medal
  • Long wiener 

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Reprint of New York Times article of December 1, 2004 from www.thepowerhour.com, accessed Jun 4, 2006
  2. Pioneer Press, Sept 16, 2005

External LinksEdit

SourcesEdit

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