Trial Begins in Case of Hunters' Shootings

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A deer hunter charged with killing six men felt physically threatened as the other men tormented him with racial insults in a confrontation over trespassing, his attorney told a jury Saturday.

Chai Soua Vang (search) started shooting because he believed another hunter fired first, attorney Steve Kohn said during the opening day of Vang's trial. He said the other hunters also used racist insults.

"You will hear him telling you that he felt he was under siege," Kohn said. "He knows he was shot at by some very hostile individuals."

Vang, 36, is also accused of wounding two other men in the confrontation last fall. He told investigators he was shot at first and acted in self-defense.

Prosecutors said Vang fired first because the other hunters were disrespectful of him and told him they would report him to state game wardens for trespassing, Assistant Attorney General Roy Korte (search) said.

"In the end, it was nothing more than anger," Korte said in his opening statement.

Vang, a Hmong (search) immigrant who came to the United States from a refugee camp in Thailand in 1980, is charged with six counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in the Nov. 21 shootings in northwestern Wisconsin. If convicted, he faces mandatory life in prison.

According to court records, Vang, a deer hunter since 1992 and a marksman in the National Guard, told investigators he got lost while chasing a wounded deer. He went into a tree stand on private land and was asked by Terry Willers to leave. Other hunters arrived, and there was a verbal confrontation.

Vang, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., told authorities the white hunters used racial slurs and profanity before Willers fired the first shot as Vang walked away, and the bullet hit the ground 30 to 40 feet behind him, court records said.

Korte said one victim used profanity and got angry at Vang but never used racial slurs.

Korte said after Willers told Vang to leave, he got a radio call from Robert Crotteau, the property's co-owner, saying he wanted to talk to the trespasser. At that point, a large all-terrain vehicle rushed from a nearby cabin to the tree stand.

"Bob has a few words with the defendant. ... There's no doubt Bob is mad, and Bob used profanities," Korte said. "The defendant claims Bob used racial slurs. The other people there don't support that theory. No one grabbed him. No one pushed him. No one threatened to shoot him."

The defense attorney maintained that the white hunters repeatedly used racial slurs including "chink" and "gook."

"There is no question that race and racial prejudice played a part in the interplay between these individuals," Kohn said.

"Foul language, racial epithets, and he is physically threatened," Kohn said. "Robert Crotteau said he was going to kick Chai Vang's a--."

Korte said Vang fired at least 20 shots, and the group of hunters had only one gun and managed to shoot just once. The prosecutor held up Vang's black rifle that had a magazine that could hold 10 bullets.

"It fires as fast as you can pull the trigger," Korte said.

Four victims were shot in the back. One ran nearly 500 feet before he was shot, Korte said.

Killed were Crotteau, 42; his 20-year-old son, Joey; Al Laski, 43; Mark Roidt, 28; Willers' 27-year-old daughter, Jessica; and Dennis Drew, 55, all of the Rice Lake area.