Wisconsin sheriff says Hmong hunter's death was homicide

(AP) - Marinette County Sheriff Jim Kanikula confirmed that a Hmong immigrant found dead Saturday morning in northeastern Wisconsin wildlife area was murdered, but declined to specify the cause of death.

He said only that an "accidental meeting" between the Hmong hunter, Cha Vang, 30, of Green Bay, and another man pursuing small game, 28-year-old James Nichols of Peshtigo, led to Vang's death.

"While there is much I would like to tell you, there is much I cannot tell you," Kanikula said at a Monday news conference at his office.

The sheriff's department did release a recording of the 911 call in which Vang's hunting companions reported him missing.

Caller Pao Moua described Vang as about 30 years old, and said he was wearing camouflage and had no known medical problems.

"He is familiar with this place," Pao told the dispatcher calmly. He then agreed to wait at the house where he was calling from for deputies to arrive.

An autopsy conducted Monday confirmed Vang's death was a homicide, the sheriff said. But he declined to provide any other information, saying newly-elected Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen had advised him not to say how Vang died until criminal charges were filed sometime this week.

Kanikula referred all other questions to the attorney general's office in Madison.

Van Hollen's spokesman Kevin St. John declined to discuss the case.

"We can't comment, we're not going to comment," St. John said. "But I can say we've been asked by the local district attorney for assistance and we've agreed to provide assistant attorneys general, to help with the criminal investigation and provide crime lab resources as well."

Vang's body was found Saturday partially concealed in the Peshtigo Harbor Wildlife Area. His wife has said he spoke little English and was unlikely to have instigated an argument or provoked an attack.

Deputies arrested Nichols Saturday at a medical center in Marinette after he showed up with a single non-life threatening gunshot wound. Kanikula said Monday that Nichols was being held for a probation violation as a felon in possession of a firearm.

Nichols is a suspect in Vang's death, he said.

"The person in custody we believe is the responsible person to be talking to at this time in Vang's death," he said.

Asked whether Nichols had confessed, Kanikula declined to comment other than to say he "has been cooperative up to this point."

"We are in possession of the weapon or weapons involved," he added.

Kanikula said both men were using firearms to hunt small game in an area where they had hunted before.

Asked whether Vang could be the victim of an accidental shooting, the sheriff said: "I don't know."

Kanikula also said he did not know if Vang's death was a hate crime.

Vang's death comes little more than a year after Hmong immigrant Chai Soua Vang, 38, of St. Paul, Minn., was sentenced to life in prison for killing six and injuring two white hunters. He claimed one of them fired a shot in his direction after they shouted racial epithets and cursed at him in northwestern Wisconsin in November 2004.

The former truck driver is serving multiple life terms.

Those slayings exposed racial tension between the predominantly white northwoods and Hmong people who have immigrated to the Midwest.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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