Trial Begins in Wisconsin Hunter Murder Case
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
On to other news now. In Wisconsin today, jury selection begins for the trial of an immigrant from the East Asian Hmong community. He's accused of shooting and killing six hunters last year, and as deer hunting season begins again this year there is tension between the Hmong community and other residents. From member station WUWM in Milwaukee, Anna Panoka reports.
ANNA PANOKA reporting:
During last year's rifle deer-hunting season, six people were shot to death in a wooded area in northwest Wisconsin's Sawyer County. Thirty-six-year-old Chai Vang of St. Paul, Minnesota, has been charged with killing the six hunters and injuring two others who were part of a hunting party from nearby Rice Lake, Wisconsin. A criminal complaint says one of the men who owned the property saw Vang sitting in a tree stand and told him to leave. Vang said he was lost and started to leave the area after he was confronted. He said the hunters called him racial slurs and fired a shot at him. Vang has pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense. Steven Kohn is the lead defense attorney for Vang.
Mr. STEVEN KOHN (Attorney): I believe that this case has been a catalyst for enormous discussion regarding a number of issues, one of which certainly has to do with the race issues up north.
PANOKA: Kohn would not say whether he believes race was a factor in the incident. But the two men who survived told investigators no one threatened Vang; some of the victims were shot in the back. Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager will personally prosecute the case. She says the victims said race was not a factor.
Ms. PEG LAUTENSCHLAGER (Wisconsin Attorney General): Allegations made against the defendant are just that: allegations against a defendant. These are not allegations against a Hmong defendant, as such, and I think the difference is important.
PANOKA: Lawyers are choosing a jury from Madison, a city about 300 miles south of rural Hayward, where the trial will take place. If convicted, Vang would face multiple life sentences, as Wisconsin does not have a death penalty. Dan Rassbach is leading the effort to build a new park in Rice Lake as a memorial for the slain hunters. He says hunters are now giving more thought to possible trespassing confrontations in the woods.
Mr. DAN RASSBACH: My son and I talked about it, that we're hunting on some property that's owned by a good friend of ours, and what do we do if somebody comes on the land? You know, how do you approach that?
PANOKA: There's also some anxiety in the Hmong community, says Loneng Kiatoukaysy, the head of the Hmong American Friendship Association in Milwaukee. He does not think many Hmong hunters will return to the woods this fall.
Mr. LONENG KIATOUKAYSY (Hmong American Friendship Association): I think that they are scared. They're scared that, you know, Chai Vang went up there and killed six hunter; you know, there might be some American who think differently of the Hmong and they will start shoot back and things like tha--there's always that fear, and I think it's a realistic fear.
PANOKA: Kiatoukaysy says hunting is an important part of Hmong culture. Hmong people used to survive on farming and hunting in the mountains of Laos. He hopes the Chai Vang case will spur Wisconsin residents to make sure they understand hunting rules and property rights, and remind people to respect each other to avoid a deadly situation. For NPR News, I'm Anna Panoka.
BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Madeleine Brand.
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