Man who killed 6 is sentenced

November 09, 2005|By JOHN MCCORMICK | JOHN MCCORMICK,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

HAYWARD, WIS. -- They spoke of loneliness, wedding dresses never worn, grandchildren never to be born and family traditions now forever ruined. And they told of watching the life drain slowly from the faces, hands and hearts of those they loved.

As he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Chai Vang, 37, a truck driver and National Guard veteran from St. Paul, Minn., looked straight ahead and showed no emotion as survivors sobbed and spoke of six loved ones gunned down a year ago after a trespassing dispute among deer hunters.

The sentencing came as hundreds of thousands of hunters prepare for the first deer season since the killings.

"The joy of the hunting atmosphere of our great North Woods has been forever changed," said Theresa Hesebeck, whose brother was killed and whose husband was injured in the shooting.

Vang, who spoke for 13 minutes as most of the courtroom looked away, said he hoped the tragedy serves as a lesson on the importance of respect for all people. He also said he and those who died had done "something great" for future race relations.

"All of you should be proud of us," he said, later adding that his sentencing was the "most happy day" of his life because he no longer needs to worry about mortgage payments, taxes and child support bills.

"As time goes by, things will gradually get better," he told the victim family members. "I wish you well and I love you all."

Judge Norman Yackel said Vang has displayed an "explosive temper" throughout his life and he was a "time bomb" waiting to explode. He said he was troubled that the defendant failed to accept any responsibility and seemed to believe some of his victims "deserved" to die.

"They were six horrific crimes and each one deserves a life sentence," Yackel said.

In Wisconsin, where there is no death penalty, the nine-day firearms deer season starts Nov. 19, two days before the first anniversary of the tragedy.

Law enforcement and conservation officials are developing plans for a command center and the rapid movement of additional officers to northwest Wisconsin, should any racially charged incidents emerge.

"We've laid some contingency plans in the hopes that we won't need them," said Randy Stark, chief warden for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

An all-white jury from the Madison area convicted Vang, a Hmong immigrant, on six counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder - the maximum charges he faced - after deliberating three hours on Sept. 16.

The six-day trial was filled with allegations of racism as Vang testified that the group of hunters called him racial slurs, blocked his exit from the confrontation and shot at him as he walked away.

Terry Willers, the first hunter to confront Vang, said nothing was done that day that warranted the shooting spree and he remains filled with stress, wishing he had "done something different" to save his friends and daughter. "This was a senseless act of violence done in cold blood," he said.

John McCormick writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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