HAYWARD, Wis. – Jury selection for a man accused of killing six deer hunters in the northern Wisconsin woods started Thursday with the judge refusing to force the defendant to wear a flak jacket to court.
Security personnel wanted Chai Soua Vang (search) to wear the bulletproof vest, but Judge Norman Yackel said Vang's attorneys objected. The judge said he would take responsibility if something happened to Vang.
Vang, 36, a Hmong (search) immigrant from St. Paul, Minn., is charged with six counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in the Nov. 21 shootings. If convicted, he faces mandatory life in prison.
Eyewitnesses and friends of the dead hunters have portrayed the killings as cold-blooded murders by an angry man on a shooting rampage.
Vang told investigators he was shot at first and acted in self-defense after the hunters tormented him with profanity and racial insults. A National Guard veteran and truck driver, he came to the United States from a refugee camp in Thailand in 1980 when he was 11.
The Hmong, a Southeast Asian ethnic minority, settled in the United States after fleeing Laos when the communists seized control in 1975 following the end of the Vietnam War. More than 100,000 live in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The judge granted a defense request to pick a jury from outside Sawyer County because of publicity about the case and concern of possible anti-Hmong sentiment. The six hunters killed were white, as are the two wounded hunters.
The 140 people called for jury duty Thursday were narrowed from a pool of 450 potential jurors through their answers on a questionnaire. The jury will be chosen and bused to Hayward, about 300 miles northwest of Madison, to hear testimony in the trial scheduled to last up to two weeks.