Perhaps one of the guiltiest defendants to mount a legal defense to murder charges since O.J. Simpson is Hmong immigrant Chai Soua Vang of St. Paul, Minnesota. Vang brutally murdered six hunters in rural Wisconsin and wounded two others in a confrontation that arose from his trespassing on the property of one of the hunters. Vang had asserted that he acted in self-defense, basing his defense essentially on racial themes. Given the fact that four of the victims were shot in the back and all but one was unarmed, the defense was difficult at best.
The evidence produced at trial against Vang was overwhelming. The evidence made out a murderous rampage so intense that one might be persuaded that race may indeed indeed have been a contributing cause of the murders. Vang seems to have been driven by a fury that is inexplicable by ordinary human passions. The defense also played on racial themes by demanding (and getting) a jury from far-away Dane County (Madison), one of the most liberal venues in the United States.
Vang took the stand in his own defense. Defendants who are guilty of the crimes with which they are charged rarely take the stand, and Vang’s case illustrates why. Vang obliterated whatever small doubt the jury might have had regarding the self-defense issues during his cross-examination by Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager when he testified on Thursday:
A courtroom full of people sat in stunned silence Thursday as Chai Soua Vang ended his murder trial with the bold declaration that some of the six deer hunters he killed deserved to die because they were disrespectful.
In a cross-examination that may devastate Vang’s claim that he was acting in self-defense, he said landowner Robert Crotteau and his 20-year-old son, Joe, deserved what they got when Vang chased them down and fatally shot each in the back, though Vang acknowledged that neither was armed.
Robert Crotteau deserved to die “because he’s the one who confronted me and called me names and that’s just who he is,” Vang testified, as members of Crotteau’s family appeared tearful and stunned.
Joe Crotteau deserved to die “’cause he accused me of giving him the finger and tried to cut in front of me,” Vang said, after describing how the younger Crotteau blocked him from leaving as his father profanely berated Vang for trespassing on the family’s hunting land.
Star Tribune reporter Larry Oakes returned to the cross-examination at the conclusion of his article on it Thursday’s testimony:
[D]uring cross-examination Thursday by Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, Vang appeared to play into the prosecution’s hands.
When she confronted Vang with a recorded statement he gave in which he said some of the hunters deserved to die, Vang responded matter-of-factly that the statement was true.
Lautenschlager ran down the list of victims, saying each name and asking Vang which deserved to die. Vang said that three — the Crotteaus for how they treated him and Allan Laski because he had a gun — deserved to die.
Prosecution witnesses disputed that Laski had a gun when he and Willers’ daughter, Jessica Willers, jumped on an ATV and rushed to the scene of the shootings after hearing victims call for help on two-way radios. Police found no gun or evidence of one near Laski’s body, they testified.
Vang testified that he shot them both because Laski stopped the ATV near Vang and was holding a rifle, looking Vang’s way. But he also acknowledged fatally shooting Jessica Willers.
“She didn’t have a gun?” Lautenschlager asked.
“No,” Vang replied.
“Is there a reason you shot her?”
“My sense is I just open fire before they shoot me,” Vang replied.
Yesterday the jury returned verdicts of guilty against Vang on all counts after deliberating for three hours: “Vang guilty in deaths of 6 hunters.” The verdicts prompted a few comments that deserve recognition for their understatement. Foremonst among them is this comment by defense attorney Steve Kohn: “This was a very difficult case from a defense posture.”