9/4/2005 11:00:26 AM
Officials ready for trial
Sawyer County expects Vang case to be expensive
Sawyer County officials are bracing for the added expense and attention of a nationally publicized murder trial next week, most of which will be broadcast live by Court TV.
Chai Soua Vang, 36, of St. Paul is charged with killing six hunters and wounding two others after a dispute in a Sawyer County woods Nov. 21.
Vang has pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense.
Selection of a jury from Dane County will begin Thursday in Madison, with opening statements and testimony planned to begin Saturday at the Sawyer County Courthouse in Hayward.
A beefed-up security force will block off a street between the jail and courthouse.
Sheriff James Meier said his biggest concern is the safety and security of the defendant, witnesses and family members.
“My No. 1 concern is that there is no intermingling between the public and jury because the way the courthouse is laid out, the doors are so close to each other,” he said.
“We’ll put up some barricades and a tent so the jury can’t be seen going in and out of the courthouse.”
Vang, who has had a cellmate, will be transported in a van about 70 yards from the jail across the street to the courthouse.
“We have to take it to the extreme; not saying we expect anything to happen. You just want to take precautions,” said Meier, who added that he is not aware of any threats against Vang.
Meier said deputies from other counties have been hired, all department vacations have been canceled and jail personnel are working 12-hour shifts during the trial.
“This is definitely a challenge,” Meier said. “One of our investigators (Gary Gilles) has lived and breathed this. There hasn’t been anything left undone in this.”
Meier said there will be six people on security detail outside the courthouse, with 11 security people inside, not counting state agents and other officials. Regular courthouse personnel will have identification tags.
With police officers stationed in and around the courthouse during the trial, beefed-up security is expected to cost the county about $100,000, Meier said.
And costs for the jury, which will be sequestered, are estimated at more than $20,000. The costs will vary with the length of the trial, which is expected to last less than two weeks.
Meier has met with county committees regarding cost overruns.
“They understand there’s nothing we can do other than provide the necessary services,” Meier said.
Sawyer County Clerk Kris Mayberry said the county has a reserve cash flow.
“We have not been given any firm numbers. We know it’s going to be expensive,” Mayberry said Wednesday. “We’re braced for it.
“We have a reserve, but we don’t like to spend that down too much,” he said. “We will appeal to the state for any help they can give us on this.”
Kelly Kennedy, spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, said Friday the state will absorb prosecution expenses, including costs for lodging, travel and expert witnesses.
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager is the special prosecutor in the case.
“We have a budget for these things when we act as special prosecutor in cases,” Kennedy said.
Jerry Sondreal, editor of the Amery Free Press, is media coordinator for the trial. About 30 reporters are expected to follow the proceedings, he said.
There will be one television feed and two still photographers.
Court TV will be at the entire trial but will broadcast live only on weekdays, said Lucie Schwartz, an associate producer for the cable channel. Action from Saturday sessions will be taped and broadcast on Mondays, she said Friday.
The first live broadcast will be Monday, Sept. 12, likely the second day of testimony.
“This case has gotten a lot of attention and is a rather high-profile case, which is why we’re going to be there,” Schwartz said.
Vang is charged with six counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the deaths of Joey Crotteau, 20; Robert Crotteau, 42; Denny Drew, 55; Allan Laski, 43; Mark Roidt, 28; and Jessica Willers, 27.
He also is charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide for the injuries sustained by Lauren Hesebeck, 48, and Terry Willers, 48.
Vang is represented by four Milwaukee attorneys.
Each of the homicide charges carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. The attempted murder charges have a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison, with a five-year enhancer for using a dangerous weapon.
Vang’s version of the events differs from those of Hesebeck and Terry Willers.
Of the six killed, four were shot in the back, autopsy reports show, while the others died from wounds to the abdomen and head.
According to the criminal complaint:
Terry Willers encountered Vang in a tree stand on private property between Birchwood and Exeland. Vang said he was lost but admitted he had hunted before in the area. He was in the tree stand about 15 minutes before Willers arrived.
Willers asked Vang, a marksman with military training, to leave and followed him as he walked down a trail. Willers had his gun slung over his shoulder as Robert Crotteau, Joe Crotteau, Drew, Roidt and Hesebeck arrived on ATVs.
Robert Crotteau told Vang he was trespassing, told him to leave the property and used profanity. Willers said no one touched or threatened Vang.
Willers said Vang pointed his gun at Willers and others who had turned their ATVs around to go back to the cabin.
Willers then held his gun in front of his body but did not point it at Vang.
Vang, who is Hmong, said the hunters made racial slurs and an obscene gesture. He said that a shot was fired at him before he shot back.
Vang said he fired at Willers and then shot at others, who he thought were going for guns on their ATVs. No guns, gun cases or gun racks were on the ATVs.
Vang said he shot the Crotteaus as they were running from him toward the cabin, yelling for help. Vang then shot Jessica Willers and Laski, who were unarmed when they arrived on an ATV.
Vang said he threw his ammunition into a swamp. About an hour later he decided to turn himself in when he heard a search plane. However, a DNR warden said Vang did not turn himself in when the warden recognized and arrested him.
The shootings started at about 12:30 p.m., and Vang was arrested about five hours later, about 3½ miles from the shooting scene