HAYWARD, Wis. – A Minnesota man convicted of murdering six deer hunters and attempting to kill two others after a dispute over trespassing in northwestern Wisconsin was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday with no chance for parole.
Judge Norman Yackel ordered Chai Soua Vang, 37, to serve six life prison terms, one after the other, guaranteeing he would never be freed from prison. Vang addressed the victims' families in court Tuesday but did not apologize.
"I understand your anger, your frustration, your grief," said Vang, a father of seven.
He described the day as the happiest of his life, saying he would no longer have to deal with things such as child support.
"I wish I can change things, but I cannot," he said.
Bruce Crotteau, a brother to one slain hunter and an uncle to another, called Vang a coward who sentenced the victims' families to a lifetime of horrible memories.
"There is no punishment that Chai Vang can ever receive that will justify what he has taken away," Crotteau said in court.
Vang, a truck driver from St. Paul, Minn., was convicted of six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of attempted homicide in the Nov. 21 slayings on private hunting land south of Hayward.
The homicide charges carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Wisconsin does not have a death penalty.
Yackel could have set a parole eligibility date for Vang, described Vang as a "time bomb ready to go off" at the slightest provocation. The judge also sentenced Vang to three concurrent terms of 40 years in prison on the attempted homicide charges.
A jury deliberated 31/2 hours Sept. 16 before finding Vang guilty following a six-day trial, agreeing with prosecutors that Vang gunned down the hunters in a rampage. Vang, a Hmong immigrant, testified he shot in self-defense after one hunter angrily shouted profanities at him and used racial slurs before another fired at him.
The murders, on the second day of the gun deer season, rocked the northwoods — four of the victims were shot in the back, two as they tried to run away and two as they rode out an all-terrain vehicle to help. All but one were unarmed.
The slayings also exposed racial tension between the predominantly white northwoods and Hmong people who have immigrated to the Midwest.
During his sentencing hearing, Vang urged people to learn something from the tragedy.
"My life is over. But all of you out there have your life and your journey continues. I hope all of you learn something from this tragedy, treat one another better," Vang said.
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager sought the maximum sentence for Vang. She argued Vang would kill again unless he was locked up for the rest of his life, given his "explosive temperament" and lack of true remorse or regret.
According to trial testimony, Vang said he got lost, went into a tree stand on the private land and was asked by another hunter, Terry Willers, to leave. Vang said he apologized and started walking away.
Other companions of Willers arrived, and there was an angry verbal confrontation and threats to report Vang to game wardens for trespassing.
Vang testified the white hunters used racial slurs and profanity before Willers fired the first shot as Vang walked away.
Willers and the other wounded hunter, Lauren Hesebeck, said no one in their group pointed a gun at Vang before he opened fire.
Willers and Hesebeck indicated only one shot was fired at Vang — by Hesebeck, who was already wounded and some of his friends lay mortally wounded on the ground.
Vang was convicted of killing Robert Crotteau, his son Joey Crotteau, Denny Drew, Allan Laski, Jessica Willers and Mark Roidt, all from the Rice Lake area. All were relatives and friends who gathered to hunt from the Crotteaus' cabin near Exeland.
Yackel also sentenced Vang to 40 years in prison for the attempted homicide charges.