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Chai Soua Vang
September 24, 1968
|Criminal penalty||Six consecutive life terms plus seventy years|
|Date||November 21, 2004|
|Location(s)||Meteor, Wisconsin, US|
Chai Soua Vang (born September 24, 1968) is a naturalized Hmong American from Laos who was convicted of murder, but claimed self defense. Vang, a six-year veteran of the California National Guard, shot eight other hunters who threatened him while on a hunting trip in northern Wisconsin on November 21, 2004; six were killed and two were wounded.
Sometime around 2000, Vang and his family moved to the Twin Cities Capital City of St. Paul, neighboring Minneapolis, Minnesota.
On Christmas Eve 2001, police responded to a 911 call from Vang's house, according to a Minneapolis Police Department report. The quarrel began when Vang said he wanted to go out and his wife did not want him to leave, Vang's daughter Kia remembered. Kia Vang recalled running out of her room and seeing her father with a gun. Police arrested Chai Vang, but charges never were filed because, police said, Xiong did not cooperate with investigators. A few months later, Xiong moved with the couple's five children to live with her parents in Milwaukee. His second marriage ended after he nearly choked his wife to death for gambling away $3,000.  
On the weekend of the shootings, Vang went out deer hunting with two friends and their two sons in northwest Wisconsin, a region where deer hunting is particularly popular, east of Birchwood, Wisconsin around the town of Meteor. Meteor extends over a large sparsely populated area. The land in the area is a mix of public and private. It is believed that Vang and his friends began their day on public land, but he later went onto a private 400 acre (1.6 km2) tract of land.
On Sunday, November 21, a hunting party of about 15 people were in a cabin on this private land. Terry Willers, one of the two co-owners of the land, left the cabin and saw Vang sitting in a deer stand. Willers used a handheld radio to ask the people still in the cabin whether or not anyone should be in the stand. Upon receiving a response in the negative, he approached Vang and told him to leave the property. Vang then apologized and started moving south towards a trail through a forested area of the property. According to Terry Willers' testimony, "As Bob got back on the radio and asked me where he was at and I said, uh, he's heading south down on the food plot right now. I radioed in to the cabin that I had a tree-rat and I had chased him off." At that point five of the hunters from the cabin who had heard the radio message arrived at the tree stand. Lauren Hesebeck, a surviving victim, stated "Bob had said I'm going to go talk to him to find out who he is, why he's there, and make sure he doesn't, you know, knows that he's on private property and that he's not welcomed there. Denny had said to me this ought to be interesting, let's go and see what's going on. We got in the back of it standing up (ATV), hanging on the rear bar." After following the directions given by Willers, they proceeded to approach Vang further down the trail. Crotteau then suggested making a note of his hunting license number to make a report to the DNR and, according to Hesebeck's testimony, Crotteau "flipped over the hunting tag on Vang's back to get his license number".
The events after the confrontation are disputed. A violent altercation broke out and four of the eight victims were shot in the back, and three of these four were hit by multiple rounds. Vang is believed to have fired about 20 rounds from a Saiga rifle chambered in 7.62×39mm, which was recovered by police. One of the wounded hunters died the next day, bringing the toll to six dead and two wounded. Vang raised his rifle in one smooth, continuous sweeping motion as he circled right, kneeled, and aimed at Willers, the group’s only armed person. Vang later said, “If I don’t shoot him, he would shoot me.”
Vang’s first shot missed Willers as he ran and dove for cover, but Willers landed atop his rifle and couldn’t turn over before Vang’s second shot hit his lower left neck, paralyzing him. Vang instantly turned toward the men on their machines and shot Roidt, who hit the ground dead, as his ATV, still in gear, idled forward. Vang shot Drew next as the Crotteaus fled, and fired three shots at close range while chasing Hesebeck around the UTV. His third shot flattened Hesebeck, who fell stunned and still.
Assuming Hesebeck was dead, Vang raced after Bob Crotteau, whose blaze-orange coat made him easy to see. As he fled, Crotteau called the cabin on his walky-talky to tell Laski to bring guns. Vang’s first shot missed but the second hit Crotteau in the chest, instantly killing him. Willers, meanwhile, had regained feeling in his fingers, and called the cabin for help.
By that time Vang was chasing Joey Crotteau, who fled down a trail. Vang sprinted to cut the corner to the trail to close the gap, and shot him in the lower back at about 65 yards. Vang reloaded, approached closer as Crotteau struggled forward, and shot him again. Vang then closed in and shot him twice more from behind, putting the final shot into his head.
Vang, after reversing his blaze-orange jacket to its camo side, hid near a curve in the trail when he heard the ATV approaching. Thinking Jessica and Laski were likely armed and looking for him, Vang waited until they passed. When he fired, the bullet struck Jessica in the left buttock, blew through her hip, and struck Laski, shattering his lower spine and abdomen. Vang ran over, shot Laski through the back and heart to finish him, and then stepped behind Jessica as she crawled screaming and pleading, and fired a shot through her neck into her brain., Vang returned to retrieve his scope and leave, thinking he had killed every witness. As he neared the site, he and Hesebeck came face to face. Vang said, “You not dead yet?” and raised his rifle to shoot. He fired as Hesebeck grabbed Willers’ rifle with his right hand and dove for cover. Shots zipped past over Hesebeck’s head.
Though he could point but not aim the rifle because of his wounded left arm, Hesebeck tried to shoot back. But when he pulled the trigger, the safety was still engaged. He dragged the unfamiliar rifle alongside his body to feel for the safety, and pushed it in. He pointed it again and fired once. He then heard a slight metallic sound from Vang’s rifle, and realized Vang was out of bullets.
Vang fled the scene on foot and discarded his remaining ammunition, later stating that he did not want to shoot anyone else. Vang eventually came across another hunter riding an ATV (who had no affiliation with the victims), and this hunter offered to give Vang a ride, eventually taking him to Vang's cabin. Vang was arrested when he returned to his cabin five hours after the shooting. An officer waiting for Vang placed him into custody and transported him to the Sawyer County Jail. His bail was set at $2.5 million.
The victims were part of a group of about 15 people who made an annual opening-weekend trip to the Crotteau-Willers property. Among those killed were father and son Robert and Joey Crotteau and Willers' daughter Jessica Willers.
Those who were killed:
- Robert Crotteau, 42
- Joey Crotteau, 20
- Alan Laski, 43
- Mark Roidt, 28
- Jessica Willers, 27
- Denny Drew, 55
Those who were wounded:
- Lauren Hesebeck, 48
- Terry Willers, 47
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There have been conflicting reports about what may have led to the shootings. According to subsequent oral statements by Vang, one of the local hunters, Terry Willers, took the first shot at him from about 100 feet (30 m) away, and therefore the shootings were in self-defense. No shell casing was ever recovered from Willers' gun even though during the trial Hesebeck admitted to firing a single shot later during the incident when Vang, noticing that Hesebeck was still alive, fired at him again. Hesebeck testified no shot was fired before Vang started shooting. Additional forensic analysis of Willers' gun was not performed by the local law enforcement. The statements of both Vang and Hesebeck state that Vang removed the scope from his rifle before firing his first shot. Vang stated that race was a factor, alleging that during the verbal dispute, some of the local hunters yelled out racial slurs at him such as "chink" and "gook." On the stand, Hesebeck admitted that Robert Crotteau had called Vang a "Hmong a--hole." Hesebeck also admitted that he told law enforcement that Robert Crotteau had problems with trespassers in the past, specifically citing Hmong hunters, who often travel to Wisconsin from Minnesota to hunt. The term "Mud Duck" is often used in Western Wisconsin to refer to Minnesota residents, similar to "Cheesehead" being used to describe Wisconsin residents. Willers used this term to describe Chai Vang when he radioed back to the cabin. Though the term does not necessarily have a racial connotation, the defense argued that it did, due to the fact that Willers and the others did not know at the time that Vang was from Minnesota.
The criminal complaint states that Vang shot four of the victims in the back, and Vang himself admits he shot one victim in the back. He also shot many of the victims multiple times. The prosecution made use of these facts in arguing against the claim of self-defense.
The trial of Chai Soua Vang began Saturday, September 10, 2005 at the Sawyer County Courthouse in Hayward. Due to pre-trial publicity within the Twin Cities and Duluth-Superior media markets, twelve jurors and two alternates were selected from Dane County, and bused about 280 miles (450 km) northwest to Sawyer County, where they were sequestered.
Vang told the jury he feared for his life and began firing only after another hunter's shot nearly hit him. He detailed for the jurors how the other hunters approached him, and how he responded by shooting at each one. He says he shot two of the victims in the back because they were "disrespectful." He recounted with clarity how he killed each victim. While saying on the stand, "(he wished) it wasn't happening," Vang contended that three of the hunters deserved to die:
"Did Mr. Crotteau deserve to die?" Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager asked.
"Yes," Chai Soua Vang replied.
Vang further testified that Joseph Crotteau deserved to die "because he accused me of giving him the finger and tried to cut in front of me to stop me from leaving." And Laski deserved to die because he had a gun & was using it to threaten a life, he said. Vang re-enacted his deeds while on the stand, using his hands and arms to imitate the motions of firing a rifle. Vang's lawyers commented that some of his abnormal remarks were due to the language barrier. Therefore, when Vang responded affirmatively to the question that Mr. Crotteau and Mr. Laski "deserved to die," his meaning implied that the men contributed to the circumstances that led to their deaths.
On September 16, 2005, Chai Soua Vang was found guilty of all six charges of first degree intentional homicide and three charges of attempted homicide by a jury of eight women and four men. On November 8, 2005, he was sentenced to six consecutive life terms plus seventy years (forty for two counts of attempted homicide plus five additional years for each count of homicide in the first degree); a sentence of life without parole. At the time, Wisconsin was one of 12 states in the United States that did not have the death penalty.
- Six years in the California National Guard, 1989–1995
- Sharpshooter qualification badge (mid-level, above "Marksman")
- Good Conduct medal
- Ashley H. Grant (November 24, 2004). "Shooting suspect had Army sharpshooting badge,"[permanent dead link] Duluth News Tribune/Associated Press. Accessed November 27, 2004.
- "Victims in the Shootings That Killed Six Deer Hunters," Duluth News Tribune/Associated Press. Posted on Sep. 04,2005.
- Kevin Harter "Vang Tells His Story," Pioneer Press, (September 16, 2005).
- "Hmong Hunters Are Up For a New Season," Asian Week, (November 11, 2005).
"Chai Vang moved to Iowa prison". Daily Planet. 25 April 2006. Archived from the original on 2010-05-14. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
According to officials at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Chai Vang was moved to an Iowa prison because of security concerns.
- Kinzer, Stephen (1 December 2004). "Hmong Hunter Charged With 6 Murders Is Said to Be a Shaman". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2016-05-04. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
- Mastony, By Colleen. "High noon in the North Woods". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
- Durkin, Patrick. "'Tree Stand Murders' story had to be told". Green Bay Press-Gazette. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
- Press, ROBERT IMRIE Associated. "THE VANG TRIAL WITNESS: LANDOWNER SWORE AT VANG". madison.com.
- http://www.beloitdailynews.com/wisconsin/survivor-owner-of-woods-had-kicked-out-hunters/article_87179c3c-c2ed-5d7e-8007-4f5d19cef6b7.html[permanent dead link]
- "Chai Vang" – via YouTube.
- Imrie, Robert (14 September 2005). "Survivor of hunting clash testifies; Jury in Vang trial is told land owner 'was sick' of Hmong trespassers". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 20 February 2016. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
- "Vang tells his story to Jury". St. Paul Pioneer Press. 16 September 2005.
"Hunter receives life in prison for killing six men". NBC News. Associated Press. 11 August 2005. Archived from the original on 2015-10-07. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
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. Wisconsin does not have a death penalty ... Vang ... was convicted on six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of attempted homicide in the Nov. 21 slayings ... The judge also sentenced Vang to three concurrent terms of 40 years in prison on the attempted homicide charges.