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Chai Vang trial begins (story audio)
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Chai Vang trial begins
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Chai Vang in court on Saturday. (Pool photo via Associated Press)
Opening statements were heard Saturday in the murder trial of Chai Vang. Vang is the St Paul man accused of killing six hunters and wounding two others during last November's Wisconsin deer hunt. Prosecutors say he shot the others without good reason. The defense says he feared for his life.

Hayward, Wisc. — Prosecutor Donald Korte opened, spelling out for the jury what Korte said was the chain of events in the woods of southern Sawyer County last November 21.

Korte laid out his version of the shooting, which took place after Chai Vang was confronted by one man, Terry Willers, in a tree stand on private property. The incident escalated when four more hunters -- members of Willers hunting party -- arrived on the scene. There were words said, and according to Vang, threats made. Vang has also told authorities he had been shot at first.

Korte says Vang had no good reason to kill the others.

"But in the end it was nothing more than anger," he said. "In the defendants own words to a newspaper reporter, because he felt the victims, or at least some of them, disrespected him. And the defendant knew that the victims had intended to report him to law enforcement for trespassing."

Korte noted many times that only one of the eight shooting victims had a gun. And he made it clear that many of the victims had been shot in the back.

Korte emphasized how far the victims were found from the initial confrontation. One, 20-year old Joey Crotteau, was shot four times in the back, and died 468 feet away in thick woods.

In opening remarks for the defense, attorney Steven Kohn described a scene hostile to the defendant. Kohn says Vang was confronted with profanity and racial slurs. Vang's escape was blocked by one hunter as the others drew around. Another, Robert Crotteau, he says, led the verbal confrontation.

"Robert Crotteau said he was going to kick Chai Vang's ass. Every other word had an 'f' at the beginning of it. Robert Croteau, after Mr. Vang was in a situation, cut off by two vehicles, and surrounded by these individuals, takes a step towards him," Kohn said.

Vang, he says, felt he had reason to fear for his life. And then Vang perceived, Kohn says, that a shot had been fired.

"These individuals, who had been threatening him verbally, calling him the most foul of shameful names, saying what they were going to do to him, were going to follow through on it. A shot was fired. At that point, you will hear him tell you, he felt that he was under siege," according to Kohn.

Vang has admitted shooting the hunters. Over a 15-minute period five were shot dead -- Robert Crotteau and his son, Joey; Al Laski, Mark Roidt, Jessica Willers. Dennis Drew survived one day, shot in the abdomen, and then died. Jessica Willers' father, Terry, and Lauren Hesebeck survived gunshot wounds.

Four witnesses -- all law enforcement officers -- took the stand Saturday to describe the shooting scene. Crime scene photos and a video were shown that included the victims bodies lying crumpled on an ATV trail, or in a thicket of trees.

There were about 50 family members of victims in the courtroom. Many couldn't bear to look at the photos projected on a large screen. Some sobbed. One woman looked only at the floor, holding hear head in her hands.

The jury watched nearly stone faced. One, a woman about 65 years old, looked clearly troubled.

A dozen members of the Hmong community sat in the front, behind Chai Vang. Outside, one -- Chang Yang of St. Paul -- said others of the community in St. Paul were afraid to come.

"And they're so afraid, so ashamed just to come here, with all the video camera pointed at them. And they think that it's going to be on picture, and they're so afraid. But for me, no," he said.

Yang said he'd hunted in previous years with Chai Vang, and came to show support.

The session closed Saturday with Judge Norman Yackel announcing that photographers would now be banned from the trial. Their cameras, he says, made too much noise and were a distraction.

On Monday, Prosecutors are expected to put on the stand some of the other members of the hunting party who were on the property the day of the shooting. Trial resumes at 8:30 Monday morning in Sawyer County District Court, Hayward Wisconsin.