Jury selected for Hmong man accused of killing six
By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- In less than three hours Thursday, a judge and attorneys chose a jury that will decide the fate of a Minnesota truck driver accused of killing six deer hunters in northern Wisconsin.
Chai Soua Vang, 36, of St. Paul, faces six counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in the Nov. 21 shootings in the woods in Sawyer County. Vang, who is Hmong, claims he fired in self-defense after the hunters ordered him off their land, used racial slurs and shot at him. All the hunters were white.
Witnesses and friends of the dead hunters have portrayed the killings as cold-blooded murders by an angry man on a shooting rampage.
The jury consists of 10 women and four men from Dane County, a mix of young and old. All appeared white, although the jurors were not asked about their race. Two of the jurors will be selected as alternates.
Jurors will be taken by bus to Hayward, about 300 miles northwest of Madison, and opening statements are expected Saturday. Sawyer County Judge Norman Yackel had jurors picked in another county after defense attorneys complained about publicity and possible anti-Hmong feelings in northwestern Wisconsin.
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who is prosecuting the case, Vang attorney Jonathan Smith and the judge chose the jurors from a group of 140 people. Two days had been blocked off for the selection process, but Vang attorney Steve Kohn said pre-mailed questionnaires sped up the process.
Vang, dressed in a dark green suit and tie, sat at the defense table, taking notes quietly.
Smith implored the jurors not to find Vang guilty simply because he is Hmong.
"Clearly, Mr. Vang is of a different race than all of you ... race, or Mr. Vang's race, should not enter into your deliberations," Smith said.
Yackel dismissed a woman who said she taught minorities in Milwaukee and thinks they have a tough life in white communities.
The case could hinge on the testimony of the two surviving hunters. Vang's attorneys have said their stories differ in major ways but have offered no details. On Thursday, Lautenschlager asked potential jurors if they thought conflicting testimony amounts to reasonable doubt and if they would discount a witness who recalled only parts of an event.
Lautenschlager also asked if anyone had shot at someone who had yelled at them in the past. She asked if anyone had taken a hunter's safety course and whether anyone had military weapons training.
All the jurors picked said they could set aside media accounts of the shootings and weigh the evidence. None of them answered yes when Lautenschlager asked if anyone thought the television shows "Law & Order," "NYPD Blue" and "CSI" were real.
According to court records, Vang, an experienced hunter and marksman, told investigators he got lost chasing a wounded deer and went into a tree stand on the private land. Terry Willers discovered him and asked him to leave. Other companions of Willers arrived and an argument ensued.
Vang told authorities the hunters used racial slurs and profanity before Willers fired the first shot as Vang was walking away, and the bullet hit the ground 30 to 40 feet behind him, court records said.
Willers and Lauren Hesebeck, the two hunters wounded, told investigators no one pointed a gun at Vang before he fired. Four victims were shot in the back, the complaint said.
The only threat from the hunters was their promise to report Vang to state game wardens for trespassing, the survivors said.