September 16, 2005

"Yes, I was angry and I was scared, not as much angry as scared."

Chai Soua Vang, accused of gunning down six hunters, takes the witness stand at his murder trial here in Wisconsin. He offers an explanation for beginning the shooting: he believed one of them shot at him and missed. But some of them were running away and were shot in the back.
Under cross-examination by Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, Vang was asked if each victim deserved to die. She held up a photo of each person as she asked the question.

Vang answered "no" in some cases and "yes" in others, including when he was asked about Crotteau and his son.
How can he possibly avoid conviction if his explanation doesn't apply to all the victims? I haven't read all the testimony. I suppose it's possible to think that from his perspective at the time, all of the victims were threatening him, but that on reflection now, he knows they didn't deserve it.


Pastor_Jeff said...

Anyone know if the DA asked about his "quickly" removing his rifle scope? It's not easy to do quickly unless you have a special scope. It suggests deliberation. Did anyone ever find evidence (bullet in the ground, spent casings not from Vang) that Vang was indeed shot at?

peter hoh said...

Sorry that this doesn't answer your question directly, but here's what I racall from media coverage. One of the eyewitnesses describe Vang walking away, then not seeing the gun (that Vang was holding it in front of his body) and then seeing the scope tossed to the ground just before Vang turned and fired.

This is a BIG story here in the Twin Cities. The defendant is from St. Paul, and our TV media coverage area includes western Wisconsin, which is becoming home to many folks who work in the Twin Cities.

Our media has been walking a fine line, I think, trying not to appear sympathetic to one side or the other.

Sebastian said...

Pastor Jeff,

As I understood he had an SKS or some other Soviet bloc rifle, which often do have side mounted scopes which are quite easy to remove quickly.

Eddie said...

This case/incident certainly doesn't help the already poor image that WI has nationally of being a bunch of backwards, backwoods hicks.

Nevermore said...

As I've said before, I have absolutely no problem believing that these hunters used racial epithets and fired "warning" shots at Vang. I've seen similar actions myself while hunting in the north woods.

Were I a juror, this would fall into "reasonable doubt", and I would probably stick to it even if I had to hang the jury.

(Fortunately I'm not on this jury.)

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that what the prosecution is doing right now would be effective with me, if I were a juror. But this is also one reason why lawyers are kept off of criminal juries in most jurisdictions.

peter hoh said...

Language is such a tricky thing. Nonnative speakers who are not quite fluent in the language often speak with a clarity and directness that most fluent speakers avoid. It is language stripped of euphemisms and nuance, two tools we use when we speak of unpleasant realities.

I remember asking an English prof about this in the early 80s, when Ricardo Muti arrived to take the baton in Philadelphia. He said the most beautiful things in his halting, imperfect English. The prof said something about imperfect English as violating our expectations, and thus hitting our ear with greater impact.

It seems to me that an eyewitness who speaks imperfect English could make a powerful impression on a jury. But when that witness is also the defendant, it's problematic. The directness with which he spoke probably hurt him.

And I think the prosecutor played to this when she asked him "(name of victim). Did he deserve to die?" Vang responded with candor and clarity. No spin. No nuance. I'm sure the defense team went nuts when this happened. I don't know how (or if) they'll try to handle it in the closing arguments.

In such a situation, I'm sure I would have had the sense to say that no one deserved to die, that it was all an unfortunate event. What is that ability? I'll call it cultural fluency for lack of a better term. It's something about knowing what your target audience wants from you. Sort of like what John Roberts has in spades.

And I'll bet, because of language and cultural barriers, Vang's lawyers were unable to coach him about how to answer the prosecutor's questions, and especially, when and how to give non-answers.

NOTE: I am not making excuses for the defendant. Just trying to show how I saw the prosecutor doing her job, based on just a few video clips.

Eli Blake said...

My understanding is that he was on private property belonging to one of the victims and their families.

If that is the case, then you have to consider that 1) this occurred during the commission of a crime (trespassing), and 2) the owners have a right to defend their property, so firing shots may be justified (I remember when I was in college getting shot at by some old geezer while my friends and I were screwing around late at night in a civil war era graveyard that I think was on his land-- and you know what, I don't know if he had a legal right to do it, but he had a moral right to do it and it sure got us to run off pretty quick).

Harkonnendog said...

Whole discussion seems ridiculous to me. He killed a bunch of unarmed people so he should be put in jail until he is dead (one way or another).

peter hoh said...

Hark, then you'll be glad to hear that the jury just returned guilty verdicts.

lindsey said...

Wasn't there some talk at the time this happened that they thought he might be tied to another similar hunting killing? I guess nothing must have come of that.

Pastor_Jeff said...

The jury, which was brought in from Dane County, convicted him on all six counts off murder and three of attempted murder. They deliberated for about three hours before coming to the conclusion.

James d. said...

I'm not sure if this was used at trial, but when Vang was in jail, a Chicago (Sun-Times?) reporter wrote him, asking for Vang's side of the story. Vang wrote back this long letter where he detailed the entire ordeal, including how some shots were in self-defense (or perceived self-defense, such as being verbally threatened and taking a great deal of verbal racial abuse), but later he was basically the hunter taking anyone in sight down.
I was on the copy desk at the Strib that night (interning) and had to type up the contents. While not remembering it word-for-word now, it seemed then to my non-legal eye that after reading that letter, the only thing up for debate was the extent of the sentencing.

Mike said...

I think that the jury did the right thing--convicting that is. But, man it's hard not to believe Vang's story. It very much rings true... especially knowing a few people from that area. There is great animosity toward the Hmong and Mexican immigrants. Obviously, firing a warning shot and using racial epithets does not excuse shooting 6 people.

However, once you start mixing guns (and shooting) and hostility, it's perhaps easier to understand Vang's belief that they weren't just going to stop there.

Oh well, like someone else said, just one more case to make Wisconsin look as bad as southern hicks.

Marcus Aurelius said...


Wisconsin is in flyover country. All of flyover country has that rap.