Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Chai Vang pleads "not guilty"; Lautenschlager to prosecute

Chai Vang made his first appearance in court today, entering not guilty pleas to the nine charges against him.
It was a short appearance at the Sawyer County courthouse for Chai Vang. With his lawyers by his side, the Minnesota man pleaded not guilty to all nine charges against him -- six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide.

Eight hunters were shot November 21st after confronting Vang about being in a tree stand on private property. Prosecutors added a third attempted homicide charge Wednesday, alleging Vang tried twice to kill one of the hunters, Lauren Hesebeck, though the shots proved not to be fatal.

Vang waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and the trial has been set to begin September 12. Though Vang's defense attorneys considered a plea of "not guilty by reason of insanity," they mysteriously went for a plain ol' "not guilty" charge.

Reconcile that with Vang's initial statement to investigators:

Vang stated that Vang removed the scope from his rifle. Vang stated that Vang shot 2 times at the man with the rifle and the man dropped to the ground. Vang saw all the others run toward the ATV's and Vang continued to shoot. Vang stated that 2 or 3 more men fell to the ground. Vang stated that a couple of the men started to run. Vang stated that Vang chased after one of the men that ran towards the cabin. Vang stated that the man was yelling "Help me, help me." Vang stated that Vang shot at the man several times while chasing him. Vang stated that he got to about 15 to 20 feet of the man who was still running away and Vang shot him in the back. Vang stated that the man dropped to the ground. Vang stated that the man did not have a gun. Vang stated that Vang walked up to the man and heard the man groan and then Vang walked away. . . .

Vang stated that at this point Vang heard one of the other men call on the Walkie Talkie and state "We've been shot and need help." Vang stated that Vang observed 3 other subjects coming on an ATV. Vang stated that Vang then turned his reversible coat from orange to camo. Vang stated that he also reloaded his magazine with 5 or 6 bullets. Vang stated that Vang did not shoot at these men because they had guns with them. Vang stated that the men were in by the other injured men for less than a minute and then left. Vang did not know if the men took any of the wounded out with them.

Vang stated that Vang then observed another ATV coming with 2 more people on it. Vang stated that the driver of this ATV had a gun on his shoulder. Vang stated that Vang began to run and Vang stated that they saw Vang running and were going too fast to stop and drove past Vang. Vang stated that they stopped approximately 10 to 15 feet past Vang at a 45 degree angle. Vang stated that the man removed the gun from his shoulder with one hand while the other hand was on the handle bars of the ATV. Vang stated that Vang shot 3 or 4 times and both people fell off the ATV and onto the ground.

It's been awhile since I studied the way court cases proceed, but I guess this means that Vang's initial statement (actually, his second version of events, since his first statement was that the hunters shot themselves) won't be entered as evidence in the trial. Otherwise, what's the point of pleading not guilty if your own statements on the matter mark you as guilty?

I can assume, then, that the defense is planning to argue that this was a matter of self-defense on the part of Vang.

The case is to be prosecuted by Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager--the first she will prosecute since prior to her election in 2002. Lautenschlager's had her own legal problems this year, having been convicted of drunk driving, and having to pay a fine for the misuse of a state vehicle. But Lautenschlager's planning to run for re-election in 2006 anyway.

Lautenschlager says she wants to prosecute this case because of her "'personal interest' in cases that involve crimes against people." (It would be churlish of me to suggest that she wants to prosecute a high-profile case because she's running for re-election.)


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