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Vang says he fired after hunter shot first
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Chai Soua Vang, 36, of St. Paul, gestures as he testifies at his murder trial Thursday in Hayward, Wis. He described how he shot a group of hunters after he was verbally confronted by them, and said he believed he was going to be shot. (AP Photo/Stormi Greener, Pool)
The case of Chai Vang is expected to go to the jury on Friday. The St. Paul man is charged with murdering six hunters in northern Wisconsin last November. He took the stand in his own defense on Thursday.

Hayward, Wis. — In an hour of vivid and intense testimony, Vang described that day as he remembered it. Chasing a deer for more than an hour and getting lost. Coming across a deer stand that looked like it hadn't been used in awhile. Climbing up in it to look around, and then being told by Terry Willers that he was on private property. Vang apologized, climbed down and started to walk away.

Vang said suddenly two ATVs roared up, carrying five people, and one of them jumped off and started yelling profanities and racial insults at him.

As he walked away, Vang says he turned around to keep an eye on the angry men.

"Looking back, I observed or see Terry Willers take his rifle off his right side, just take it off," he said.

The next time he turned around, he said Willers was pointing the rifle at him.

"I thought in my heart I thought they're going to shoot me, he's going to shoot me, so I immediately dropped to my right into a crouch. I hear fire going on, I see dirt splash about 40, 50 feet away in front of me," he recalled.

Vang says Willers had fired at him, but missed. He says he shot back, and in the chaos that followed he shot seven other people, six of them fatally. Only one other hunter had a gun. But Vang said some seemed to be scrambling to get guns from the ATVs. Others were calling for help on their walkie-talkies; those who ran away he thought were going for help.

"I don't know what's, are they after me to come and get me, come and shoot me, I was fearful for my life, I was scared," he said.

The two hunters who survived, tell basically the same story, but they say no one shot at Vang; they say he opened fire first.

Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager cross-examined Vang. Under her questioning, he admitted no one in the group had pushed or grabbed him or even touched him. Once an ATV with armed riders sped by and he didn't shoot them. He told Lautenschlager that was because they didn't shoot at him.

"So you didn't shoot at them because they didn't shoot at you. Did Mr. Crotteau shoot at you?" the prosecutor asked.

"No," Vang replied.

"Did Joe Crotteau shoot at you?"


"Mr. Roidt didn't shoot at you?"


"Mr. Hesebeck didn't shoot at you?"


"But you shot at them?"


And she asked why -- if he was so afraid -- he didn't just take one of the ATVs and get out of there. He said it never occurred to him.

The audience in the courtroom listened with eyes straight ahead and mouths turned down. Sometimes they wiped their eyes, or held their head in their hands. Terry Willers shook his head when Vang described shooting him.

Vang himself was composed and self-assured. Under cross-examination his eyes twitched from time to time. But he told his story in vivid detail and without any hesitation.

When testimony was finished, the court recessed. Vang turned to talk with family members who'd been sitting behind him. As he talked, several of them cried; others comforted each other. Vang offered a prayer, holding his hands together in front of his face and bowing toward his family. He dropped to the floor four times, then turned away with tears spilling down his cheeks.

For the first time during the trial, Vang's family approached the media to make a statement. It was written by Vang's mother, and read by his daughter, Kia Vang.

She thanked the people of Hayward, especially the police, for their hospitality. She sent condolences to the families of the hunters who were killed.

"And finally I want to thank you for listening to me, and remind you all what my son said yesterday: 'all of this could have been prevented if we could just learn to respect each other.' Please, I beg you, remember my words. Thank you," the statement said.