September 16, 2005

Hmong convicted of killing Wisconsin hunters

By Eileen Nimm

HAYWARD, Wisconsin (Reuters) - A Laotian immigrant was
convicted on Friday of shooting to death six hunters, after the
jury rejected his claim he fired after being shot at and that a
racist tirade made him fear for his life.

Chai Soua Vang, a 36-year-old truck driver who is a member
of St. Paul, Minnesota's Hmong minority community, faces an
automatic sentence of six life terms in prison after the
all-white jury found him guilty of six counts of murder and
three counts of attempted murder after three hours of

Vang, who was 11 when he and his Laotian family immigrated
from a Thai refugee camp, appeared resigned and showed little
emotion as the verdict was announced in the Sawyer County

Vang testified that one of the white hunters who confronted
him November 21 on private land shot at Vang first and he fired
back in self-defense.

He recounted running after the other hunters as they tried
to flee, shooting some in the back, because he thought they
were going for their guns. He ambushed two others from the
all-white hunting party -- including a woman -- who arrived on
the scene on an all-terrain vehicle.

"I did what I had to do to defend myself," Vang testified
on Thursday. He said he had been in the National Guard in
California, and was an experienced hunter.

Two other hunters who were wounded by Vang testified it was
Vang who fired first after being scolded by one of the owners
of the land and told to stay off private property. Vang was
discovered in a tree stand, used as a perch to hunt deer.

"He was called names and that's wrong, but it's not
unlawful. It did not interfere with his person," said Wisconsin
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who helped prosecute the

Lautenschlager said: "Mr. Vang was not attacked. He was
angry, and rightfully so. The defendant had no actual belief he
was in imminent danger of death or bodily harm, not when he
chased down all the victims."

Many Hmong hunt, as they did in their native land, which
has resulted in clashes with white hunters. There have been
complaints that Hmong routinely trespass on private lands and
shoot more game than allowed. Vang himself was ticketed once
for shooting too many deer.

The Hmong hill people of Southeast Asia were enlisted by
the United States to fight against the Communists in Laos
during the Vietnam War era. They were persecuted after the war,
and many made their way to refugee camps and then to the United
States. Roughly 100,000 settled in Wisconsin and Minnesota. One
of the largest concentrations of Hmong immigrants is in St.

Vang's attorney told the jury no one could prove who had
fired first and that the case was entirely about the climate of
racism that put his client in fear for his life.

"Chai Soua Vang, like anyone else, has no duty to retreat
if he finds himself in a situation (where he faces) great
bodily harm, with death; he does not have to try to run away or
outrun a bullet," attorney Steve Kohn said.

"Vang was called the most disgusting words that one human
being can say to another. ... How is he to react to that?"