Wisconsin authorities reveal details of Hmong hunter's deathby William Wilcoxen, Minnesota Public Radio
A Wisconsin man now faces a murder charge in connection with the killing of a Hmong hunter who was found shot and stabbed to death in a wildlife area near Green Bay earlier this month. The complaint against James Nichols also alleges that he made disparaging remarks about Hmong people to the investigators who questioned him. Relatives of the man who was killed have speculated that the slaying was racially motivated and may have come in retaliation for the 2004 murder of six white hunters at the hands of a Hmong hunter.
St. Paul, Minn. — The Marinette County District Attorney charged 28-year-old James Nichols with first degree homicide, with being a felon in possession of a handgun, and with concealing a corpse. Authorities say Nichols shot Cha Vang and stabbed him six times.
Vang's body was found with a stick lodged in his mouth and was partially concealed by a log. If convicted, Nichols could receive a life sentence plus 39 years in prison. A prosecutor declined to comment on the charges. Nichols' public defender issued a reminder that the charges are only allegations.
In both Wisconsin and Minnesota some people see Cha Vang's killing as part of the legacy of the case of Chai Soua Vang. The Saint Paul man is serving multiple life sentences for killing six hunters in northwestern Wisconsin's Sawyer County more than two years ago.
Tou Ger Xiong is with a Saint Paul group, the Coalition for Community Relations, which held a weekend forum in Green Bay to discuss race relations and the recent killing. Xiong is convinced Cha Vang was killed because he was Hmong. He hopes the incident will generate honest discussions about race. Xiong says prosecuting the case as a hate crime in addition to homicide would promote that.
"I'm afraid that we will have missed the boat in not addressing this as a hate crime because there have been numerous incidents before the Chai Vang incident two years ago; and between then and now there've been many incidents, particularly in the Wisconsin northern woods," Xiong says.
"I don't think that we can begin to have a serious dialogue about racism and about racial hatred in these communities if we don't acknowledge that this played a role."
Prosecutors could still ask the court for permission to amend their complaint by adding a hate crime charge. Dick Campbell, a spokesman for Cha Vang's family says he has faith that the authorities who have to make that decision will make the right call.
"I'm certain that they will be adding that if it is appropriate and if it is something that's going to be provable."
Campbell has served as an advisor to the United Hmong Center in Green Bay and assembled a Hmong advisory group for the mayor's office. For the last 10 days he's helped Cha Vang's widow, Pang Vue cope with law enforcement and the news media. Campbell says he's been impressed by how much time investigators and prosecutors from the state and county level have spent telling Vue, through interpreters, how the case is proceeding.
"All came to Green Bay for one purpose," Campbell says, "and that was to sit down with Pa and explain what was going on and explain why things were moving at the particular pace that they are and what was going to come next and so on." Campbell says he attended the Saint Paul group's forum in Green Bay and he took a dim view of the event. He says it struck him as outsiders trying to stir up trouble in the community.
Cha Vang's death has reopened discussions about how to bridge the gap between Hmong and American cultures, particularly when it comes to hunting.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Hmong liaison is Kou Xiong. He says in their homeland Hmong hunters were not acquainted with such concepts as bag limits, a hunting season, or privately owned property. In Wisconsin and Minnesota a hunting license comes with a book that spells out regulations. Kou Xiong says Wisconsin's regulations are published only in English and he does not anticipate a Hmong language version anytime soon.
"I'd like to see it, but you've got to have the budget for it. Right now, we don't have the budget to translate the regulations," Xiong says.
Bail for James Nichols was set at $500,000. His next court appearance is set for February 14.
- Morning Edition, 01/17/2007, 6:55 a.m.