MARINETTE, Wis. – A white man was charged Tuesday with murdering a Hmong hunter in the woods in a slaying that rekindled racial tensions in Wisconsin and raised fears among Southeast Asian immigrants that the dead man was the victim of payback.
James Nichols, 28, shot and stabbed Cha Vang, 30, whose body was found Jan. 6 in a wildlife refuge near Green Bay where both were hunting squirrels, authorities said.
District Attorney Brent DeBord gave no motive for the killing, which Vang's family said appeared to be racially motivated.
Two years ago, a Hmong deer hunter shot six white hunters to death after being accused of trespassing in the Wisconsin woods. He said that the whites shouted racial epithets at him and opened fire first. He is serving multiple life sentences.
After Vang's death, members of Hmong community said they feared it was retaliation for the earlier killings.
In court papers, prosecutors said that Nichols claimed that Vang shot him without provocation after Nichols told Vang to leave because he was interfering with his hunt. Nichols said the two then fought, and he killed Vang.
"I know there are many people in the Hmong community and the community at large, that are wondering if this is a hate crime," Dick Campbell, spokesman for Vang's widow, said after the charges were announced. "I'm wondering that myself."
Vang's body was found covered with leaves and other debris in a depression in the woods after members of Vang's hunting party reported him missing. An autopsy indicated Vang had been hit with a shotgun blast and stabbed five times.
Sheriff's deputies arrested Nichols after he went to a hospital with a .22 caliber bullet lodged in his right hand and an injury to his other hand. He was charged with first-degree murder and other offenses.
Calls to Nichols' lawyer were not immediately returned.