MARINETTE, Wis. – Testimony in the trial of a white hunter accused of killing a Hmong hunter during a dispute in the woods described the victim as a patient man who "would never yell."
While James Nichols claims he shot Cha Vang out of self-defense, prosecutors said the confrontation was motivated in part by prejudice and that Nichols initially lied about the killing in January and gave false information to medical workers when he sought treatment at a hospital.
Nichols, 29, of Peshtigo, is accused of shooting and stabbing Vang to death Jan. 5 after the two got into a dispute while hunting for squirrels separately in the Peshtigo Wildlife Area.
The victim's widow fought back tears as she identified the Hmong hunter from a life-size portrait taken right before the family came to the U.S. from Thailand as political refugees in August 2004.
Pang Vue, speaking through an interpreter, described the 30-year-old father of five as a peaceful man, "a very thoughtful person and very patient."
"He liked fishing, taking the kids to the park and playing soccer," she said.
She said her husband was taking classes to learn English and had taken a hunter safety course so he could hunt deer and squirrels.
Vang's death rekindled racial tensions in northern Wisconsin, where a Hmong deer hunter fatally shot six white hunters three years ago.
Several hundred thousand Hmong fled Laos for the United States after the communists seized control in 1975, many settling in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
As testimony began in Nichols' trial Tuesday, one of Vang's hunting companions said their party of four split up after entering the woods at about 2 p.m. Testimony was to continue Wednesday.
Pau Moua, 26, of Green Bay, said he heard gunshots that sounded like they came from a more powerful weapon than Vang's .22-caliber rifle. He said he thought they might have come from a nearby target range.
Moua testified that Vang was a good shot but not violent.
"He was a good person," Moua said. "He would never yell."
Nichols told investigators there was a verbal confrontation after he told Vang that he was interfering with his hunt. Nichols said he got shot in the hand and then shot and stabbed Vang, according to the criminal complaint.
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 — about the same time members of Vang's hunting party reported him missing.
He is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, hiding a corpse and being a felon in possession of a firearm and could face life in prison.
Nichols' attorney Kent Hoffmann did not dispute prosecutors' claim that Nichols killed Vang, but said he did so in self-defense. Nichols initially lied about his actions because he was afraid of going back to prison, Hoffmann said.
Assistant Attorney General Don Latorraca told jurors during opening statements that Nichols disliked Hmong hunters and initially lied about killing Vang.
An autopsy concluded Vang was hit by a shotgun blast and was stabbed six times.
A fired shell was found inside Vang's gun, indicating it had been fired at least once that day, Mike Haas, an evidence technician at the State Crime Lab's Wausau office, testified. Investigators found the blood-covered gun hidden inside a fallen tree.
Marinette County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Lesperance testified that Nichols helped search for Vang on the night of Jan. 5 and took them close to where the body was.
"He said, `I know he was in there. I dragged him to a low spot, put a log on him, covered him in leaves,"' Lesperance said.
The search was called off and a dog discovered the body the next day.
Brad DeYoung, a nurse at the Marinette hospital where Nichols was treated for wounds to both hands, said Nichols told him he was hunting squirrels near Peshtigo, felt something hit his hand, started running and was shot in the other hand.
"Then he said he just got out of there," DeYoung testified.
He said Nichols seemed calm. The nurse said he heard part of police interviews with Nichols.
"I overheard him say, 'I suppose no one would believe me if I said it was self-defense,'" DeYoung testified.