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Court TV Commentator Chris Van Wagner On Vang Case

Jurors Talk Of 'Anger In The Woods'
Two Say They Didn't Find Vang's Story Of Self-defense Credible.

Wisconsin State Journal :: LOCAL/WISCONSIN :: D1
Sunday, September 18, 2005

Two members of the Dane County jury that convicted Chai Soua Vang on Friday of killing six hunters in the North Woods last fall said they didn't find Vang's claim that he acted in self-defense credible.

The foreman of the jury that convicted Vang, William F. Bremer, said, "There was a lot of anger in the woods that day" and that he didn't know whether Vang's race played a role in the confrontation.

But though Bremer, 58, said he thought Vang was truthful at times in his testimony Thursday, Bremer didn't believe Vang acted in self-defense against hunters hurling racial slurs.

"It was not the same story as his initial story and I took it with a grain of salt," Bremer said of Vang's claim that he was insulted and shot at by one of the hunters before he opened fire.

Bremer added that he was mindful that Vang had time to talk with his lawyers and change his story to fit with the evidence.

And according to juror Carole Radtke, 56, Vang didn't help himself at all by taking the stand to testify in his own defense.

"I think he hurt himself," Radtke said. "He just didn't seem as though he felt any remorse for what had happened."

Both Bremer and Radtke denied accusations by some Hmong leaders and Vang's family that the all-white jury could not understand the situation Vang was in after being confronted by the white hunters about trespassing on their land and using their tree stand to hunt.

"It wouldn't have mattered what race the person was -- if they would have done what he had done, I wouldn't have changed my mind," Radtke said.

"He wasn't convicted because he was Hmong. It was because of what he had done."

Radtke said that while she understood that Vang may have felt threatened by the hunters, she agreed with the assertion of Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who prosecuted the case, that Vang had the choice to walk away rather than resort to violence.

Bremer said that the testimony of the medical examiner -- who said that four of the victims had been shot in the back, one in the head, and one in the abdomen -- was very important in helping the jury make their decision.

Madison defense attorney Chris Van Wagner, who kept an eye on the trial as a commentator for Court TV, said he was not surprised by either of the verdicts against Vang.

"The fact that it took a shorter time than most Madison juries take reflects that it was an overwhelming case," Van Wagner said. "The defense was handicapped from the beginning by the fact that Mr. Vang shot four people in the back."

Van Wagner also said he sees no issues that Vang could present in an appeal. Vang's attorneys were not denied any evidence they wished to present, he said, and Sawyer County Circuit Judge Norman Yackel agreed to their request to pick a jury from outside northern Wisconsin.

Some of Vang's supporters have complained that because the jury lacked a Hmong member, it was not a fair panel. But Van Wagner said people are mistaken in assuming that they have a right to a trial by a jury of their peers -- they have a right to a fair and unbiased jury from their community.

"To gerrymander the jury selection process to ensure a minority member would eliminate its random selection nature," he said. The lack of minorities on Dane County juries has been a problem that the legal community has tried -- with little success -- to address. But the fact is that Dane County is a mostly white community with a small minority population, Van Wagner said.

Even so, did it even matter in Vang's case? Van Wagner is doubtful.

"As a practical matter, no jury that is fair and unbiased can deny that four victims had bullet wounds in the back," he said.