Wisconsin hunter to stand trial in killing

(AP) - A judge ordered a white hunter to stand trial for murder in the fatal shooting and stabbing of a Hmong hunter in woods near Peshtigo last month.

The slaying has rekindled racial tension in northern Wisconsin, where a Hmong deer hunter was sentenced to life in prison for shooting and killing six white hunters in 2004.

Some Hmong have speculated that James Nichols, 28, of Peshtigo, killed 30-year-old Cha Vang of Green Bay in retaliation.

Family and friends of both Nichols and Vang packed the courtroom Wednesday. Nichols showed no emotion as Marinette County Circuit Judge David Miron ruled that prosecutors had enough evidence to justify three felony charges against him, including first-degree intentional homicide.

Nichols, who has worked as a logger and at sawmills, told investigators he shot and stabbed Vang in self-defense after a confrontation in which Nichols told Vang to leave the area because he was interfering with his squirrel hunting, a criminal complaint said.

"He advised me that the Hmong group was bad and he was trying to be nice to this individual, but the individual started talking gibberish to him and shot him," Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Ducane testified.

Vang's family has said he could not have provoked an attack because he spoke no English.

Sheriff's Detective Anthony O'Neill said Nichols had stated he ran 40 feet, tried to hide behind a tree and shot once with his single-shot shotgun.

"He said he took no specific aim. He called it a wild shot and he wasn't sure if he hit him," O'Neill said.

Nichols told the detective that he saw Vang having problems with his gun and, figuring it was jammed, Nichols ran at Vang, took away the gun and threw it, wrestling Vang to the ground.

"He said he stabbed him twice in the neck," O'Neill said.

O'Neill testified that Nichols said he had hunted in the same area before, then remarked the Hmong are "bad. The Hmong shoot at anything and they are mean."

O'Neill said he never asked Nichols what he meant when he said the Hmong were mean.

Under cross examination, O'Neill testified that investigators have found no physical evidence on who shot first.

The judge said testimony from two detectives about Nichols' version of what happened clearly showed that Nichols caused Vang's death. Miron scheduled a hearing March 19 for Nichols to enter pleas.

Public defender Kent Hoffmann said Nichols would plead not guilty.

"Nothing we heard today surprised us," he said. "We are fully confident in our defense, and will get ready for trial."

Dr. Mark Witeck, who performed Vang's autopsy, said Wednesday that Vang was shot once with a shotgun, probably from about 50 feet away, and suffered six stab wounds to his face and neck.

"His actual cause of death is due to the massive bleeding caused by the injuries," Witeck said.

According to testimony Wednesday, Vang's body was found covered with wood, leaves and other debris in the Peshtigo Harbor Wildlife Area. An autopsy indicated Vang was hit by a shotgun blast and stabbed six times.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Nichols after he went to a hospital Jan. 5 with what he called .22-caliber bullet wounds to his hands, about the same time members of Vang's hunting party reported him missing.

Ducane said Wednesday he talked to Nichols at a hospital while the defendant's hands were still bleeding from what Nichols said were gunshot wounds from Vang.

Nichols, who has been jailed on $500,000 bail, was charged with first-degree intentional homicide while armed, hiding a corpse and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was charged as a habitual criminal because of his previous conviction for burglary.

Six deputies and some Southeast Asians, including Vang's widow, followed testimony with earphones as it was interpreted to them.

Wisconsin, Minnesota and California are home to the largest populations of Hmong, an ethnic minority that fled Laos after the Vietnam War.

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

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